Quebec will expand its vaccination passport system so that users will eventually be required to have three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to use it, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced during a news conference Thursday.
Dubé did not provide an exact date for the change, only saying it would be made once all Quebecers have been given the chance to get a third dose.
Currently, the general population has access to a third dose if they are 50 or older. All adults will have access as of Jan. 17.
Dubé also announced that Quebecers will need to show proof that they are adequately vaccinated in order to enter the Quebec Liquor Corp. (SAQ) and government-run stores selling recreational cannabis (SQDC) as of Jan. 18.
Dubé said the measure comes as the province ramps up its efforts to slow down the rapid increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Dubé said the measures were necessary to protect unvaccinated people, who represent at least half of those in hospital with the virus.
"If the unvaccinated aren't happy with this situation, there is a very simple solution at your disposal," the minister said. "It is to get vaccinated. It's free."
The minister also said the government will expand the use of the vaccination passport to other non-essential businesses, such as personal care services, with that announcement expected in the coming days.
"By limiting the places they can go, we're limiting their contacts," Dubé said, referring to people who aren't vaccinated.
"If you don't want to get vaccinated, stay home."
The health minister also highlighted the fact that about half the people with COVID-19 being admitted into ICUs are unvaccinated.
Nearly 20,000 health-care workers absent, minister says
On Thursday, the province reported that 1,953 people were in hospital with COVID-19, but that number could continue to rise rapidly, according to the province's health-care research institute.
The latest projections from the institute, which is known by its French acronym, INESSS, indicate that more than 3,400 Quebecers could be in hospital with COVID-19 in two weeks.
At least 3,000 of those patients would occupy regular beds, with a minimum of 400 being admitted to intensive care.
The institute did specify, however, that its projections did not take into account the province's most recent public health measures, including the overnight curfew, the closing of restaurant dining rooms and delaying the return to school for elementary and high school students.
As hospitalizations continue to grow, so is the number of health-care workers who are absent as a result of having contracted the virus.
The minister said that total has recently ballooned to almost 20,000.
WATCH | Quebec bars unvaccinated people from liquor, cannabis stores:
Government has 'lost control,' opposition leader says
According to the leader of the province's Liberal Party, Dominique Anglade, the Coalition Avenir Québec is making decisions related to the pandemic based on political considerations instead of science.
"They've lost control," Anglade said.
The government did not do enough to anticipate and slow down the virus's fifth wave, she said.
She highlighted that Quebec's premier, François Legault, was not present during Thursday's news conference and has not had a public appearance this week. She called his absence "unacceptable."
She highlighted the fact that this week alone, the province has modified vaccination requirements, reduced the availability of PCR tests, changed the isolation rules for the general population as well as staff and children at daycares.
"All of this is creating a lot of anxiety in the population, and François Legault is nowhere to be seen this week," Anglade said.
Going online to declare positive COVID test
With the use of PCR tests now limited to more high-risk populations, and with more people using home testing kits, the province's daily case count is an underrepresentation of the spread of the virus, the minister said.
The province is planning, however, to allow Quebecers who use rapid testing kits at home to go online and declare their positive tests in order to help create a more accurate portrait of the epidemiological situation.
The online system should be in place next week, the minister said.