MONTREAL — The smartphone applications that will run Quebec's vaccine passport system will be available for download starting Wednesday, one week before the government's latest health order goes into effect, according to Health Minister Christian Dubé.
"We are responding to a promise we made to Quebecers, that the vaccination would be a passport to freedom," Dubé told reporters in Montreal Tuesday. "The vaccine passport is the balance we found to keep our economy opened while protecting people."
Starting Sept. 1, residents 13 years old and upwill be required to show proof of vaccination to access businesses the government deems non-essential, such as gyms, bars and restaurants. Residents have been emailed a quick response code by the Health Department as vaccination proof.
The passport will also apply to a wide range of other activities and businesses, including cinemas, bowling alleys, festivals and other outdoor events involving more than 50 people, as well as outdoor sports that involve frequent or prolonged contact.
Businesses will be required to download a special application to read QR codes, while patrons are being encouraged to download a separate application into which they can link their QR codes. Residents can also present a paper version of the code or show an image of the code on their smartphones. The applications will be ready for download on Apple's App Store Wednesday morning, while Android users will be able to access it later this week, Dubé said.
He said the pilot project that tested the vaccine passport over the last few weeks was successful. Some businesses that participated, however, were met with protests involving people against the passport system.
Asked about the protests, Dubé said, "We cannot let an entire population be held hostage in order to let a minority keep their privileges."
He added that he thinks a majority of Quebecers support the new health order because 86 per cent of residents over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of vaccine and 90 per cent of them have downloaded their QR codes.
"People want to be vaccinated and they want to have a normal life," he said. "We went through hell in those first three waves."
Penalties for business owners and customers who fail to adhere to the system will be the same as those under the province's mask mandate, with fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000, Dubé said, adding that businesses that don't check vaccine passports could be closed by public health authorities.
While businesses are being asked to start checking vaccine passports on Sept. 1, Dubé said the state won't start imposing penalties for violations until Sept. 15.
Daniel Paré, the head of Quebec's vaccination program, said residents who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons will be able to have their doctor fill out a form that will allow them to be included in the vaccine registry and patronize businesses where proof of vaccination is required.
Earlier Tuesday, Reno Bernier, who is responsible for information technology at the Health Department, told reporters during a technical briefing that the vaccine passport application won't require an internet connection because the system won't send or receive data.
Bernier said the application for businesses will only display the customer's name, date of birth and whether they are considered adequately vaccinated, adding that no information from customers' QR codes will be stored in the application.
He said the biggest problems experienced during the pilot project involved readers not being able to scan QR codes on pieces of paper that had been folded and customers struggling to find their QR codes on their mobile devices.
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 345 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and three more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by three, to 102, and 29 people were in intensive care, a drop of two.
Officials said 78.5 per cent of Quebecers 12 and older are considered adequately vaccinated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2021.
Jacob Serebrin and Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press