COVID-19 update – Vaccine passports roll out

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Allyson Beauregard

QUÉBEC – The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is implementing a vaccine passport system in the face of “an inevitable fourth wave” due to the back-to-school period and the spread of the Delta variant.
As of September 1, only fully-vaccinated residents will be able to attend locations with high capacity and high rates of contact like gyms, restaurants, festivals and public events, including the Shawville Fair (see page 21); for now, retail businesses aren’t included.
The government is weighing whether to include weddings and religious gatherings. The aim is to prevent widespread closures like previous lockdowns.
Those in the under 12 age group are exempt as well as employees of impacted businesses, and the government said further details about exemptions for those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons will be announced.
The passport system will operate through a free app that reads QR codes, which the government hopes to have operational by the beginning of the month; residents, businesses and events will have to download it. Those who do not have a smartphone can show paper verification certificates or have their QR codes mailed to them.
The Québec Liberals are in favour of vaccine passports, said Pontiac MNA André Fortin, noting it has a number of benefits for those who’ve been vaccinated.
“It can provide a feeling of safety and security as they frequent public places. It also gives employees in these businesses the comfort of knowing the risk of getting the virus is reduced. It hopefully will allow for stability and a return to a somewhat normal life for those who are vaccinated by preventing any further government shutdowns,” he explained.
However, Fortin said the measure has many implications and unanswered questions that should be discussed in parliament, but haven’t. “For example, how do we provide this passport to citizens without internet access, or a cell phone? How do we expect businesses to manage access, and what, if any, tools will government provide to help them do so? Will there be compensation for additional security for festivals that will have to manage this? Will the measure be phased out as more Quebecers get vaccinated? These are all questions that merit debate. Unfortunately, Premier Legault has refused this debate, citing that it would give a [stage] to conspiracists. This is simply ludicrous. We have a responsibility to debate these issues. The CAQ should not make these decisions behind closed doors, without debate and without hearing experts,” Fortin told the Journal.
Mandatory vaccination for health workers
On August 17, Québec Premier François Legault announced that health care workers in the private and public sectors who are in contact with the public for 15 minutes or more daily will be required to be fully vaccinated by October 1; about 90% are currently vaccinated.
A parliamentary commission will meet with opposition parties in the National Assembly soon to debate a mandatory vaccination policy for other public workers such as teachers and daycare workers as well as the consequences employees will face if they refuse.
Back to school
On August 11, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced students (from Grade 1 and up) will have to wear face masks inside schools, in common areas and on buses, but not while sitting in the classroom, outside or in daycare settings. Classroom bubbles will be eliminated.
However, on August 17, Legault said students in CEGEPs and universities will have to wear masks while seated in class, and not just in common areas.
In high schools, vaccine passports will be required for extracurricular activities deemed ‘high-risk’, al-though no examples were given of what this includes.