Premier Blaine Higgs says New Brunswick may follow Quebec's lead on asking for proof of COVID-19 vaccination at liquor and cannabis stores.
He says everything is on the table as the province considers new restrictions for people who choose not to get vaccinated against the virus.
"It did have an impact in Quebec, as we understand," he said. '
He was referring to a reported jump in the number of first-dose vaccine appointments booked since the Quebec requirement was announced last week.
Hospital system 'in crisis'
"We're looking at all these things that would make life more difficult for those that refuse to be part of the program and are able to do so," Higgs said Friday, just hours before the province entered a 16-day lockdown.
"Some are not, I get that, and they will obviously be exceptions. But for people that just choose not to and they're impacting the health of the general public, we must find a solution."
Higgs announced the move to Level 3 of the COVID-19 winter plan, effective at 11:59 p.m., during a briefing Thursday, citing a hospital system in "crisis."
A record-high 104 people are hospitalized with the virus, including nine in intensive care. Three of them are on ventilators.
A total of 386 health-care workers off isolating after testing positive, and COVID cases continue to surge.
We're doing to do what is necessary to protect all of New Brunswickers and to compel people to get vaccinated. - Blaine Higgs, premier
During the briefing, Higgs vowed to "get to the root of the problem" so the province doesn't have to go through 2022 constantly changing levels.
"I've been asked many times in media interviews this week about how far I'm prepared and willing to go with vaccine mandates," he said. And while I'm not going to elaborate without … a full discussion with health [officials] and cabinet, I will say we're doing to do what is necessary to protect all of New Brunswickers and to compel people to get vaccinated.
"Life will become increasingly uncomfortable and more difficult for those who are able to be vaccinated but choose not to be."
Higgs said he has asked various departments for suggestions regarding where restrictions can be tightened for the unvaccinated.
"I think that, you know, everything has to be on the table, and I think the difference in nuance here is that this is a situation that's now impacting the masses in our province" and hospitals.
He noted of the nine people in intensive care, 78 per cent are either unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or it has been more than six months since their second dose.
"In other words, nine per cent of the population accounts for 70 per cent of the hospitalizations."
Since Dec. 1, 30 people have died of COVID, he said. Of those, 23, or, 77 per cent, have been unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or behind on their booster.
"So, you know, there lies the issue. So we can't ignore it."
Asked about Quebec's plan to impose a health tax on those who refuse to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks, Higgs seemed less keen.
"We have to look at that in the context of our public health system. And where does that stop?
"I believe, you know, you can say, 'This is different because it's impacting many.' But at the same token, you have to be careful."
Health tax would be complicated
He questioned, for example, if someone who doesn't take care of their health as well as others, or isn't as healthy, would also warrant an additional fee.
"Where does that all go? So it's not [as] simple as a health tax might seem," he said.
"But I think other areas of inconvenience would be in relation to events of all kinds that require mass gatherings.
"We cannot continue to revolve around an unvaccinated population that is having such a significant impact on 90 per cent of the people in this province."
The lockdown will remain in effect until Jan. 30 at 11:59 p.m.