Quebec health-care workers in both the public and private systems who are not adequately vaccinated by Oct. 15 will be suspended without pay, the province's health minister, Christian Dubé, announced Tuesday.
Dubé and Quebec Premier François Legault both said in recent weeks they intended to make vaccination mandatory for health-care workers, but until Tuesday, they had not specified a deadline or consequences for workers who didn't follow the mandate.
Dubé made the announcement in Montreal during a provincial update on the pandemic situation in the province.
For weeks, such events have been led by Dubé, accompanied by Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. But with the gravity of the fourth wave increasing, Legault returned to head up the news conference for the first time in three weeks.
Legault noted the number of hospitalizations in the province had climbed to 171 from 55 a month ago.
When asked which workers will be affected by the mandate, Dubé responded: "Everybody … 100 per cent of employees."
In a statement, the health ministry said this includes doctors, midwives, professionals in private clinics and volunteers. A full list of workers and institutions affected can be found here.
At the briefing, Dubé also announced Quebec's vaccine passport requirement will apply to people visiting hospitals.
The passport came into effect one week ago — on Sept. 1. It is required for most non-essential services, including for restaurant and bar dining rooms and terrasses.
COVID-19 a new normal, says premier
Legault echoed a recent Facebook post by Dubé in which the health minister shared thoughts on the future of the pandemic, saying Quebecers would have to "learn to live with the virus" because of fast-appearing variants.
"For a while, we're going to have to accept a certain amount of risk. We don't want another lockdown, so we're going to have to accept that there will be hospitalizations for COVID-19 for a while," Legault said Tuesday.
"We are going to have to reorganize the health-care system."
He said though the hospitalizations may not be as high as early on in the pandemic, they are already straining the system because of a lack of personnel.
WATCH | Public Health Minister Christian Dubé announces deadline for unvaccinated health workers:
Legault said the government is trying to come up with ways to convince people who have left the profession to come back, by potentially introducing incentives including increasing pay and improving working conditions.
He called on federal leaders to make increasing health transfers a priority in the election campaign.
Ethics committee approves move
Jeff Begley, head of the federation of health and social services union (FSSS-CSN), said he wasn't surprised by the government's announcement, but he also wasn't certain it was the right call.
"We're not sure that it's the best means going forward," he said.
Begley said the federation is more concerned about the elimination of "hot" sections in clinics. As of yesterday, clinics no longer have sections to separate patients showing possible symptoms of COVID-19 from other patients.
"We think that despite the obligation of vaccination, that the key is to keep the protections in place," he said.
Meanwhile, an expert committee advising Quebec's public health research institute, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) issued a release today reversing course about its opinion on mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers. The committee say it now approves of it based on the precautionary principle, but as long as the exceptional measure remains temporary.
That's a change from January, when the committee said the move was not justifiable and should be avoided out of respect for health-care workers' autonomy.
13 per cent of eligible Quebecers still don't have vaccine
Legault made a plea to the 87 per cent of Quebecers who've received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to try and convince one person who is not vaccinated to make an appointment.
"Try to find a way to speak to that 13 per cent," Legault said. "It doesn't sound like much, but it's still hundreds of thousands of people and the reality is that experts say this variant is so contagious, they are worried the whole of the 13 per cent could end up in hospital."
He said unvaccinated people are 30 times more likely to end up in hospital with the virus than those who are vaccinated.
Dubé hinted that more specific measures, including expanding the range of activities requiring a vaccine passport, could be implemented for Montreal, which is where most of the province's new cases have surfaced.