MONTREAL — Quebec will impose a vaccine-passport system in September in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks occur, requiring people to prove they are vaccinated to enter places such as gyms and bars, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday.
The system will apply for specific periods of time in parts of Quebec where COVID-19 transmission is high, Dubé told reporters, adding that proof of vaccination will be required only to access non-essential services.
“The vaccination passport will be used if, and only if, the transmission or outbreaks justify it in a sector or in a territory,” he said. “To be clear, the vaccination passport will not be used for access to public or essential services.”
Dubé said the proposed health order will allow the government to avoid imposing fresh lockdowns if cases begin to rise in the colder months, and he said it would permit businesses to operate despite having COVID-19 outbreaks. “It’s an extra tool in our management of cases and contacts,” he said. “We found an alternative to a generalized lockdown.”
In a news release Thursday, the Health Department didn’t provide a concrete list of places where the vaccine passport will be required, but it suggested it could be used at bars, gyms, restaurants, sporting events and festivals.
Should an outbreak at a gym occur, Dubé said as an example, “we’re not closing the gym, we’re saying that for a period, only the people that have a double dose can go to the gym. It’s a risk-management approach.”
The government is waiting until September to impose the passport system because everyone over 12 should have been able to receive two COVID-19 vaccine doses by then, Dubé said. They system will apply to Quebec residents and to visitors.
Details of how private businesses will be expected to verify proof of vaccination and how the state will manage an exemption system for people who can’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons still have to be worked out, Dubé said.
Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist who teaches at Université de Montréal and Harvard Medical School, said she thinks announcing the plan early was a good move and will encourage people to get vaccinated — something she said could prevent the passport’s use entirely.
It’s the right approach, she said in an interview Thursday, to require proof of vaccination for specific locations and to lift the health order when an outbreak is over.
“This is such a targeted, such a finely nuanced proposition that it really takes care of all the worries that we sometimes have about discrimination, because it’s not meant to punish those who are not vaccinated, it’s not meant to create barriers for anyone, it’s just meant to keep as much of society open and functional around eruptions of the virus,” she said.
“It’s meant to protect the health-care system while protecting our economy.”
She said it’s reasonable to prevent someone who chose not to get vaccinated from visiting a bar for a specific period of time. “The limitations that they will face will be so minor, that I think for the common good, it’s a very reasonable, proportional idea.”
Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said more detail is needed about how the passport system will work.
“When they say we’re not going to use this until it becomes necessary, I think we need to know in advance what necessary looks like,” she said in an interview Thursday. “We need a clear threshold that says this is when this is a measure that’s going to be appropriate.”
She said she also has concerns about how the private health data will be stored. “What happens to that information? Who holds it? And what kind of restrictions are put on its use and sharing? How secure is it?”
The Health Department said 113,084 doses of vaccine were administered Wednesday, and Quebec’s public health institute said 42.7 per cent of residents over 12 are considered adequately vaccinated.
Quebec reported 64 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 10 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, nine of which occurred before July 1. Health officials said COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by two, to 101, and 23 people were in intensive care, a drop of two. Montreal reported 25 new COVID-19 cases while no other region in the province had more than 19 new cases.