The Quebec government is promising transparency as it considers a vaccine passport for residents fully immunized against COVID-19, but opposition parties are raising concerns it could lead to discrimination and division.
Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters Thursday the province is looking at creating a type of vaccine passport system, but a day later, a spokeswoman from his department said the idea is still under study.
Quebec already has an electronic database with information about Quebeckers’ vaccinations, Health Department spokeswoman Marjaurie Côté-Boileau said in an e-mail Friday. The government, she added, would only need to make this information easier to access for a COVID-19 passport system.
“It’s an interesting innovation that we need to explore,” she wrote, adding the government will be transparent about the process.
On Friday, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois the Québec solidaire party called for a legislative commission to study the vaccine-passport project, saying it should hear from experts and explore the ethical issues behind such an idea.
“Who could demand to see such a vaccination passport?” Mr. Nadeau-Dubois asked. “Could it be required to access private places? Could it be required by some employers? Could it be required when renting accommodation? How to ensure that this does not feed the inequalities already revealed by the crisis?”
Liberal health critic Marie Montpetit also called on Mr. Dubé to clarify his intentions. “The stakes are too high to approach it with as little seriousness as the health minister did yesterday,” she said on Twitter. “The issue must be discussed in a transparent and rigorous manner.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said the federal government will follow the guidance of experts regarding vaccine passports. “There are potential pros and cons that I’ve heard on various issues surrounding it,” Mr. Trudeau told a news conference. “Our position as a government is always going to be to rely on the best advice of experts.”
Quebec is still at the beginning of its mass vaccination campaign, having given 400,540 people a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Health officials administered 12,038 doses on Thursday.
After registering nearly 100,000 vaccination appointments for Quebeckers 85 and older on Thursday, health officials extended registration to Montrealers as young as 80.
The province reported 815 new COVID-19 infections and 11 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus on Friday, ahead of March break week, which begins Monday. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital dropped by 13, to 620, with 119 people in intensive care, a drop of three.
Premier François Legault permitted certain activities to reopen Friday to give families things to do with their children during the break. Movie theatres reopened across the province, including in “red” pandemic-alert zones such as Montreal and Quebec City, as did indoor arenas and pools.
Quebec provincial police said Friday that patrols would be stepped up over the next week to ensure public-health guidelines are being followed. Private indoor gatherings remain forbidden.
The province’s nighttime curfew remains in effect and officials have implored Quebeckers to follow distancing rules with COVID-19 variants in circulation.
More than half the new infections reported on Friday were in Montreal, where all positive COVID-19 cases are being screened to identify more transmissible mutations of the virus. This week, authorities said between 8 and 10 per cent of infections were suspected variant-linked cases.
The number of presumptive variant cases in the province jumped to 874 Friday, up from 772 on Thursday. The number of confirmed variant cases remains at 34 – including 30 of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.
The province has reported a total of 286,145 infections and 10,372 deaths linked to the virus. Quebec has 7,888 active reported cases.
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