MONTREAL — Quebec's COVID-19 infection rate is relatively stable, but the situation over the coming month will determine whether health orders like the vaccine mandate and passport system need to be strengthened, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Tuesday.
Schools across the province have begun to reopen, and Dubé said it's highly likely infections will rise.
"We will see an increase of cases and hospitalizations in the upcoming weeks, especially in Montreal and Laval," Dubé said. "For us, what's important is to monitor the month of September."
To reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially the Delta variant, Quebec has imposed a vaccine passport system effective Wednesday that will require everyone in the province to show proof of vaccination before they can access businesses the government deems non-essential, such as restaurants and gyms.
The government has also said it will impose a vaccine mandate on health workers and either reassign or suspend without pay those who refuse to comply. Details of the health order have yet to be released.
Dubé said the government will monitor the situation over the month of September and decide whether more health orders will be required — including additional coercive measures to bring up vaccination rates, which are already among the world's highest.
“We will see how it goes and we will adjust,” Dubé said. “After that, we will be able to consider expanding mandatory vaccination.”
He said many Quebecers are asking whether restrictions can be eased once the vaccine passport system is in effect. "We need to do it gradually," Dubé said. "We have a lot of demands to (relax measures), but we need to see how the return to school will go."
Meanwhile, the Health Department on Tuesday announced that people who can't get vaccinated due to medical reasons will still be offered a vaccine passport. It said in a separate news release that "everything is ready" for the start to the vaccine passport system.
Dubé said there will be a two-week grace period during which penalties for non-compliance will not be applied.
“The next two weeks are going to be, as we often say, rock 'n' roll,” Dubé said about vaccine passports. “I want to be transparent: for some people, it’s relatively easy, but for others, it’s more complicated.”
Quebec reported 425 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one more death attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by six, to 131, and the number of people in intensive care dropped by one for a total of 36.
"We are currently near 15 to 25 per cent of our (hospitalization) capacity, depending on the regions," Dubé said. "This is good news, but it can change rapidly."
There are 4,400 active reported COVID-19 cases in the province.
Health officials said 22,200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours. Officials said 87 per cent of Quebecers 12 and up have received at least one dose and 80.6 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 31, 2021.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press