Quebec’s health minister says a vaccination passport system will be implemented on Sept. 1 to combat rising COVID-19 cases and an “inevitable” fourth wave.
“Taking into account the increase in cases, the fall coming up with the back to school and back to work and the expected prevalence of the delta variant, the conditions are there to deploy the vaccination passport,” Christian Dubé said.
Dubé unveiled some details about the system, announced last week by Premier François Legault, alongside two public health officials — Dr. Yves Jalbert, a strategic medical adviser, and Caroline Roy, an adviser on matters related to the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
The vaccine passport will be implemented in places with high capacity and a high rate of contact, such as festivals, bars, restaurants, gyms and training facilities to avoid the widespread closures that marked the first waves of COVID-19 in Quebec.
When asked about religious gatherings and weddings, Dubé said the government is still discussing whether they will be included as events that require vaccine passports.
For the time being, the vaccination passport will not be used in retail stores or schools.
WATCH | Dubé unveils details for vaccination passport:
Dubé emphasized the system is the only way to keep the economy open and still protect the health system from being overwhelmed as it was in previous waves. He says a fourth wave, driven by the delta variant, is “inevitable” in Quebec.
According to Jalbert, delta is behind a third of new infections in Quebec, but public health officials predict that it will account for half of them in the coming weeks.
While clients of certain non-essential services, like bars, will need to be vaccinated and have a QR code to prove it, the same will not be required of staff. Dubé says that mandating vaccines for staff would break labour laws.
Children under 12 will not need to provide proof of vaccination as there are no approved COVID-19 vaccines for that age group. People 12 and older, who are eligible for vaccination, will be required to.
When asked about people who cannot get the vaccine for medical reasons, Dubé said further details will follow regarding exemptions.
Quebec is still considering making vaccinations compulsory for health workers and promised an update within the next few days. As for schools, Dubé had no additional information. A news briefing with Education Minister Jean-François Roberge is slated for tomorrow.
Dubé also announced the return of weekly news conferences updating the province on the epidemiological situation.
2 pilot projects
The passport will be used on an app that is being tested this week. Two pilot projects are planned: one at a sports bar in Quebec City starting Wednesday for two days, another next week at a gym in the Vimont district of Laval, just north of Montreal.
Dubé says the government wants to have the smartphone application ready for use across the province by September, though people who do not have a smartphone will be able to use the paper vaccination certificates issued at vaccine centres. They can also print out their QR code or request a paper version by mail.
Dubé says the application will read the QR code sent to people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Businesses will need to download an application to read the QR codes and clients will need a different application to display them. Both apps should be available later this month and will be free.
As for what kind of data the app collects? “None… It’s only a reading application, that’s it,” Dubé clarified.
With regard to travellers from other provinces and from outside the country, Dubé indicated that he is in talks with the federal government to harmonize the vaccination passport with the ArriveCan app.
So far, 84 per cent of eligible Quebecers (aged 12 and up) have received a first dose, Dubé said Tuesday.
He said he’d like to see all of those who have had one dose receive a second by the end of the month, meaning 1.1 million doses need to be administered by Aug. 31.
‘A useful tool’
Dr. Gaston De Serres, a medical epidemiologist with the province’s public health institute, believes a vaccination passport system would fare well at encouraging adults aged 20 to 39 to get vaccination. Vaccine bookings already shot up after Legault’s announcement last week.
“We need to improve the vaccine coverage in these age groups which, at the present time, is clearly insufficient,” De Serres said, pointing to the group’s vaccination rate sitting under the province’s 75 per cent benchmark. He says this age group makes up about 50 per cent of the province’s new cases.
“So the vaccine passport in this regard is certainly a useful tool to be an incentive for people to be vaccinated.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante applauded the provincial government’s announcement on Twitter, calling it “good news to ensure that our restaurateurs, our bars, our festivals do not relive the difficulties of the past year.”
The vice-president of the Quebec wing of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), François Vincent, says it is “reassuring to hear the government’s objective of avoiding a new lockdown at all costs.”
Quebec’s civil liberties union, the Ligue des droits et libertés (LDL), though, is taking issue with the vaccine passport system, saying there has not been any time for a proper public debate and citing concerns about data security.