MONTREAL — Public health experts and the head of Quebec's largest business group say the province's reopening plan should be based around vaccination rates.
Karl Blackburn, president and CEO of the Conseil du patronat du Québec, the province's largest employer's group, said his members want a predictable plan that will allow them to prepare. Blackburn said in an interview Friday he prefers a plan that is based on specific targets — rather than specific dates — because the situation could change.
"We all hope for a return to a certain normalcy," he said about the summer. "And this return to a certain normalcy definitely comes through vaccination."
Premier François Legault has hinted over the past couple of weeks his government is gearing up to present a plan to Quebecers and has said he was impressed by what Saskatchewan offered to residents in early May.
Saskatchewan's so-called "Re-Opening Roadmap" is pegged to the population's immunization levels: as the rate increases, more activities are permitted.
Dr. Cory Neudorf, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said his province's plan has more pros than cons.
"The main thing that I think is appealing to people is, first of all, some clear metrics that say once a bar is reached, we're going to start seeing some easing of restrictions," he said in an interview Friday. "People have been hearing a lot of convoluted messaging, restrictions lifted then having to be put back in place, and they seem to really not know if, or when, an end is in sight."
Tying the reopening to vaccination rates is also a good idea, he said, because it will encourage people of all age groups to get vaccinated.
"To articulate a reopening strategy that is predicated on high vaccine uptake, across the whole population, means that it's an extra reason to come and get immunized. If you want us to get out of this pandemic, you need to show up and roll up your sleeve."
Getting a large percentage of the population vaccinated is essential for achieving herd immunity and stopping the spread of COVID-19, he added.
He said incentivizing people to get vaccinated is important because as more vulnerable people are protected — and the number of deaths and hospitalizations decline — others may become less motivated to get vaccinated.
"The fear is that you get a certain proportion of coverage, cases come down, and it keeps smouldering along, but people aren't motivated enough to come out and get immunized and so you're gonna end up with this long, long road to recovery, where we keep getting cases, breakthrough outbreaks and these sorts of things."
But Neudorf said he's worried the thresholds for reopening in Saskatchewan's plan are too low to stop the spread of more transmissible variants of the novel coronavirus. He said he believes 85 per cent of the population needs to be fully vaccinated to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The reopening plan introduced in the United Kingdom — on which Saskatchewan's was based — moved more slowly than the province's, Neudorf said.
Roxane Borgès Da Silva, a public health professor at Université de Montréal, said it's likely vaccination levels will allow the government to permit more outdoor activities involving larger groups by early June.
"We are very close — in about two or three weeks, 70 per cent of people will have at least one dose," she said in an interview Friday. But Borgès Da Silva said she thinks Quebec should make more use of rapid testing in the reopening plan — particularly to watch for new cases during the delay between the first and second dose.
Meanwhile, a contingency plan has been put in place at a Quebec City jail where 20 employees have active cases of COVID-19. As of Friday, three inmates at the detention centre had also tested positive for the disease.
Quebec's Public Security Department said a massive testing operation was conducted at the jail this week, adding that 287 of the 484 inmates have received at least one dose of vaccine. Under the contingency plan, non-essential activities are suspended and only essential transfers of detainees are taking place.
Quebec reported 838 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and eight more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two within the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by 10, to 530, and 123 people were in intensive care, a rise of two.
Officials said 110,119 doses of vaccine were administered Thursday — a new, single-day record — for a total of 4,127,768.
Quebec opened vaccination to all residents 18 and older on Thursday. The government said almost 56 per cent of adult Quebecers have received at least one dose of vaccine and another 16 per cent of adults have an appointment.
Quebec has reported a total of 361,820 COVID-19 cases and 11,025 deaths linked to the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press