Montreal

Vaccine passport could be required for going to work, restaurants, Quebec's economy minister says

Businesses in Quebec should be able to use vaccine passports to make their workplaces safer for staff and clients, Quebec's economy minister said, offering a first glimpse of how a vaccine passport system might work in the province.

Quebec will begin offering digital proof of vaccination later this week, but use remains unclear

The new 'Excelsior Pass' app is a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. (NY Governor's Press Office/The Associated Press)

Businesses in Quebec should be able to use vaccine passports to make their workplaces safer for staff and clients, Quebec's economy minister said, offering a first glimpse of how the controversial system might work in the province.

Starting Thursday, Quebec will begin issuing digital proof, in the form of a QR code, to people who have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A QR, or quick response, code is a barcode that can be scanned using a cellphone app to get a link, or a piece of information. 

Health Minister Christian Dubé has insisted that the QR code, which will supplement the paper document already being distributed, is not itself a vaccine passport.

But he has said the digital code is a necessary technological step the province would need to take first before implementing a vaccine passport system.

In a recent interview with Radio-Canada, Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said the QR code, or an eventual passport, would be an important tool allowing businesses to resume normal operations.

"I think businesses will use it because they have a need to keep their employees safe; they have a need to keep their clients safe," Fitzgibbon told Les coulisses du pouvoir in a pre-recorded interview that was broadcast Sunday.

He cited, as an example, restaurants requiring proof of vaccination, adding: "I think it's maybe a good idea to allow businesses to benefit from this technological tool."

Weighing the merits

Several countries have indicated they will require proof of vaccination in order to lift strict international travel restrictions, such as quarantine requirements.

The federal government indicated earlier this month it was working on a vaccine passport for international travel purposes.

But the idea of requiring proof of vaccination in order to conduct daily activities, such as going to a restaurant, is much more controversial. There are concerns it could create, or exacerbate, inequalities.

'I think businesses will use it because they have a need to keep their employees safe; they have a need to keep their clients safe,' said Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

An expert committee advising Quebec's public health research institute (the INSPQ) issued a report last month that concluded the benefits of a vaccine passport system would "slightly" outweigh the disadvantages, such as increased inequality.

That finding, though, came with several conditions, including that the effectiveness of the vaccines be established, other public health measures remain in effect and that the passport system be temporary.

"Quebecers consider vaccination as act of solidarity as much as they do an act of self-protections," said Bruno Leclerc, a retired ethics professor who headed the committee, told Radio-Canada.

"I think we can suppose that people waiting for the vaccine wouldn't oppose the use of a vaccine passport that they would eventually benefit from."

In comments made last week, Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said his department is studying the issue closely, and will make a recommendation to the government about whether to go ahead with a passport system, and if so, how it should be used.

"We want to do a good analysis given the ethical issues, among others," Arruda said. "I think it could have a certain utility, ok. We're not saying No; we're saying we have to look at it."

The QR code that will be distributed, beginning on Thursday, will contain the dates of each dose and which vaccine was administered. Arruda said it could serve as a proof for Quebecers travelling abroad.

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