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Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic at the legislature in Quebec City on Oct. 7.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s health system has welcomed more than 1,000 full-time nurses since the government offered one-time bonuses of up to $18,000 to help fill critical labour shortages in the network during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 700 part-time nurses have switched to full-time work, 56 nurses came out of retirement and 231 new people have been hired from the private sector, Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters Thursday. In total, he said 1,007 more full-time nurses have entered the health system since the government announced the bonuses in late September.

“Reinforcements are on the way,” Mr. Dubé said, adding that another 1,900 people are negotiating with the province.

On Sept. 23, the government announced it had budgeted $1-billion to offer full-time nurses bonuses of up to $18,000 to prevent more of them from leaving the public health care system and to entice those who have left to come back. The government had estimated it was missing at least 4,000 full-time nurses.

Those bonuses only applied to fully vaccinated nurses, however. And Mr. Dubé on Thursday said the government was holding firm on a deadline for all health care workers in the province to be vaccinated by Oct. 15 or be suspended without pay.

He said he would reveal contingency plans next week regarding how the government would prevent service disruptions in the event thousands of health care workers are suspended.

About 25,000 health workers in the province are still not fully vaccinated, Mr. Dubé said Thursday, adding that about 13,000 of them have not received a single dose of vaccine.

The Health Minister stressed there’s still a week to go, but acknowledged that while the numbers of vaccinated workers were rising every day, they weren’t rising fast enough.

“Just yesterday we vaccinated 300 people with a first dose in the health network,” Mr. Dubé said. “I think we can go much faster because, if we were more in the range of 500, 600, 700, well, by Oct. 15, we would have more with at least a first dose.”

Mr. Dubé called on workers to get a first dose quickly and said there wouldn’t be any religious exemptions granted to them.

“There’s no question of religion here,” Mr. Dubé said when asked if the province would follow the federal government, which has said federal employees could take advantage of religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

“We can understand the federal position, that is their choice, but in our case, there are no exceptions,” Mr. Dubé said.

Mr. Dubé urged workers to consider other consequences of being suspended, including losing seniority and the effect on their pensions.

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