Quebec will implement a vaccine passport system in September in an effort to mitigate the threat of a fourth wave, becoming only the second province, after Manitoba, to restrict certain activities to fully immunized residents.
Premier François Legault said Thursday that Quebec requires proof of immunization in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the province. Six days ago, modeling by the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that over 80% of people 12 and older will need to be vaccinated twice to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed in the fall so as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads.
“The principle of the passport is that those who have made the effort to obtain their two doses must be able to live an almost normal life,” said Mr. Legault. “This is an important message that we need to get across… vaccines work. “
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Mr. Legault said provincial health minister Christian Dubé will unveil details of the plan in the coming days. As of Thursday, 83 percent of eligible people in Quebec are once vaccinated and 67 percent have received both doses. Yet the number of cases is increasing. Provincial health officials have reported an average of 160 new cases daily over the past seven days, more than double the average for the previous week.
Several countries have started to take an interest in vaccine passports. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday his government is considering mandatory vaccination for federal workers and in federally regulated industries. Mr. Trudeau cited air and rail transport as industries “where it could be very interesting to start requiring vaccination.” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick declined to comment on Trudeau’s statement and said the government has not approached the airline about the possibility.
Salem Woodrow, spokesperson for Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., declined to comment, while Brad Cicero, spokesperson for Porter Airlines, said the carrier is considering mandatory vaccines regardless of any government action.
Last week, US President Joe Biden introduced measures requiring federal employees and contractors to show proof of vaccination or be subject to new rules that include mandatory masking and weekly testing for COVID-19. Israel, France and Italy began reserving an array of services and leisure activities for those vaccinated in July in an effort to curb the spread of the Delta variant.
But the provinces remain divided. Manitoba’s immunization card, launched in June, contains a QR code that can be scanned with a government app. Manitobans who show proof of vaccination can visit museums, casinos, art galleries and long-term care facilities, and sit with members of different households in restaurants. Immunized out-of-province travelers can skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
British Columbia, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia are considering vaccine passports.
British Columbia has policies in certain areas, but has not specified when or what they will be announced. “It will be increasingly necessary in many workforces, and particularly in healthcare, to be able to demonstrate that you are vaccinated,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Other provinces reject the idea.
“We are not going to have a divided society,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
When asked Thursday whether Ontario will reconsider its decision, Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the government has made it clear that passports will not be mandatory because 80% of Ontarians have already received their first dose. Organizations such as Ontario Medical Association and Registered Nurses Association of Ontario urged the provincial government this week to implement passports or vaccination certificates.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said his government will not facilitate a system in which companies ask customers for proof of vaccination. He said asking people for private health information would violate provincial privacy laws and discouraged companies from imposing such requirements.
Maxwell Smith, bioethicist and assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Western Ontario, said it might be easy for someone who is pro-vaccination to rally around the idea of a vaccination passport, but it is still too early to know if they actually work. He said provinces must ensure that their policies, while they may increase vaccination rates, do not exclude communities that may have valid reasons for not meeting vaccination criteria, such as international students. who have received vaccines not approved in Canada.
Yet he said he understands Quebec’s decision. He said a general guideline for public health ethics is to use the least restrictive measures necessary. But as the pandemic persists and the Delta variant remains difficult to contain, he expects passports to become more common, as long as authorities see them as a valid way to protect people.
“Policymakers will think, depending on how it goes, that it is no longer tenable to just see how it plays out,” he said. “I think right now we’re throwing everything to the wall and seeing what sticks. “
Dr Smith said other provinces should pay attention to the impact of the Quebec passport on society.
“Now it behooves us to learn what works and what doesn’t, and if that is effective in getting more people vaccinated, it is an ethical responsibility that we have to take from that. “
In Quebec, businesses and organizations are waiting to know the specific advantages of the passport and how it could affect them. Mr. Legault pointed out that elementary schools, high schools, CEGEPs and universities should hold face-to-face classes this fall, even if children under 12 are not yet approved by Health Canada to be vaccinated.
No Quebec university has so far required that students be vaccinated to attend classes. McGill University media relations manager Shirley Cardenas said Thursday discussions are underway with government officials to adapt fall plans if necessary.
Mr. Legault did not reveal much about the impact on sectors other than schools.
Olivier Bourbeau, Vice-President of Restaurants Canada for Federal and Quebec Affairs, called the news positive, as restaurants reserved for vaccinated people will likely manage to avoid epidemics and blockages. He stressed that more closures would worsen the already large debts incurred by the industry over the past year.
“The advantage of vaccine passports,” he said, “is that our restaurants and our non-essential businesses won’t close.”
With reporting by Ian Bailey in Ottawa, Jeff Gray and Eric Atkins in Toronto and James Keller in Calgary
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