MONTREAL — Premier François Legault said Tuesday his government is looking at what it can do to stop people from protesting COVID-19 health orders outside the province's schools and hospitals.
Legault said his government will "use whatever is necessary" to prevent people from disrupting students attending school or health-care workers entering hospitals.
"We're not ruling out anything; indeed, it could be a special law," Legault told reporters in Quebec City, after protesters had gathered earlier in the day outside a high school in a northern Montreal neighbourhood.
"We're looking at what we can do, but it's unacceptable to see anti-vaccine protests outside our schools and hospitals."
Protesters have gathered outside schools in recent days to denounce health orders such as the COVID-19 vaccine passport. Last week, demonstrators rallied at McGill University Hospital Centre's Glen site, some of them carrying signs questioning the use of COVID-19 vaccines. Others bore signs opposing rules imposed on health-care workers.
Similar protests have occurred in other parts of Canada.
When asked by a reporter how a law would affect the right to protest outside schools and hospitals for non-COVID-19 reasons, Legault said the question is being studied.
"We're looking at what it means, a protest outside a school or a hospital, and when we're ready with something, we will come see you, and it will be very soon," he said.
Later on Tuesday, Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy posted to Twitter a bill she had drafted that would prevent protests that are "anti-vaccine and anti-health order" within 50 metres of an elementary or high school. She said she had sent the bill to the justice minister and was "ready to sit all night to adopt this law that protects students."
Meanwhile, Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters at a separate news conference on Tuesday that the government will unveil details later this week of its plan to attract more nurses to the public health system.
Quebec is short about 4,000 nurses, the minister said. The situation could worsen in the upcoming weeks, as health-care employees face suspension without pay if they are not adequately vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15.
Dubé said he'll explain Thursday how the government will employ the same "winning formula" to the nursing shortage that it used for its COVID-19 vaccination campaign. He said the plan will include a reorganization of work, a significant increase in the number of full-time positions, a plan to eliminate mandatory overtime and an eventual end to the use of private employment agencies.
"We cannot wait three years to pick up the 4,000 nurses that we need," Dubé said. "How can we accelerate the hiring of those either retired or who have quit in the last six months?"
Earlier on Tuesday, Quebec reported a drop in new COVID-19 cases and in the number of people in hospital with the disease. But health officials also reported nine more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, for a total of 11,335.
An outbreak declared Sept. 10 at a seniors residence in Cartierville, a borough in north-end Montreal, has been tied to at least 34 infections. Marie-Hélène Giguère, a spokesperson for the local public health authority, said Tuesday that six residents of Manoir Gouin have been hospitalized and two have died. Manoir Gouin has 107 residents, and the vast majority of them are adequately vaccinated.
"We are supporting them since the beginning of the outbreak," Giguère said. "The residents are staying in their apartments, the common areas have been closed, masks are mandatory indoors, we will do a third screening either today or tomorrow." Giguère didn't give details on the suspected source of the outbreak.
Quebec officials reported 587 new cases on Tuesday, down from the 679 cases reported on Monday. They said hospitalizations dropped by six compared with the prior day, to 274, after 27 patients entered hospital with the disease and 33 were discharged. Eighty-six people were in intensive care, a decline of six.
The province said 9,576 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Monday. Quebec's public health institute said 89 per cent of residents aged 12 and up have had at least one dose of vaccine, and 84.4 per cent are fully vaccinated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2021.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press