Quebec promises transparency on vaccine passports, opposition says moving too fast

·3 min read

MONTREAL — The Quebec government is promising transparency as it considers a vaccine passport for residents fully immunized against COVID-19, but opposition parties say the project could lead to discrimination and division.

Health Minister Christian Dube 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 Quebecers' vaccinations, Health Department spokeswoman Marjaurie Cote-Boileau said in an email Friday. The government, she added, would only need to make this information more widely available 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 of second opposition party Quebec solidaire called for a legislative commission to study the vaccine passport project, saying it should hear from experts and explore the ethical issues behind such as idea.

"Who could demand to see such a vaccination passport?" 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 do we ensure that this does not feed the inequalities already revealed by the crisis?"

Liberal health critic Marie Montpetit also called on Dube 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,” 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 Quebecers aged 85 years and older on Thursday, health officials extended registration to Montrealers as young as 80 years old.

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. Hospitalizations dropped by 13, to 620, and 119 people were in intensive care, a drop of three.

Premier Francois 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 Quebecers to follow distancing rules because of the COVID-19 mutations in circulation.

More than half the new infections reported 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 eight 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 mutation 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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press