Quebecers who want to visit patients in hospitals will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter the institutions, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Tuesday.
At a news conference updating the province’s COVID-19 situation, Premier François Legault stressed the need to protect and support the province’s health-care system as it experiences a fourth wave fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant.
“We need to learn to live with the virus,” Legault said. “It means for a long period of time, we need to accept a certain risk. We don’t want to go into another lockdown. We need to accept that there are people who will be hospitalized for COVID-19.”
Legault said while hospitalizations are adding to the workload of health-care employees, he will do whatever it takes to avoid another lockdown. That is why, he added, the government introduced the vaccine passport.
“What we know is that the virus is here to stay for a time,” Legault said. “We will never succeed to vaccinate everybody. People will get COVID-19. There will be other waves. But we don’t want to go into another lockdown, so the announced measures are here to stay.”
Quebec’s vaccine passport system, the first in the country, has been in effect since Sept. 1. Proof of vaccination is required to access businesses and services deemed non-essential, such as bars, restaurants, gyms and festivals.
Dubé said some exceptions will apply to the new hospital rule, such as when someone who is not vaccinated wants to visit a dying loved one.
“We will use our good judgment,” Dubé said. “The idea is that we want to protect the work environment. There are still 30 to 40 health-care workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 every day.”
The health minister also announced that the ethics committee of Quebec’s public health institute has approved a previously announced plan to make vaccination mandatory for health workers. The new measure will apply to all staff in the public and private sectors who are in regular contact with patients, including cleaning crews and receptionists, Dubé said.
He urged unvaccinated health workers to get their needles soon, saying that they will face suspension without pay if they are not adequately vaccinated by Oct. 15.
“We cannot accept that we have workers who put vulnerable people at risk,” Dubé said. “It’s our responsibility to protect our health-care system.”
Quebec had said on Aug. 17 it would require only health-care and social workers who deal with patients for more than 15 minutes to get fully vaccinated, but now the measure will apply to workers who have any contact with patients.
“We don’t like to force people to get vaccinated,” Dubé said, but he said the measure is needed to protect both patients and workers.
The institute’s ethics committee in January said it was better to avoid mandatory vaccination of health-care workers out of respect for their autonomy and freedom of choice. But on Tuesday, the committee said the pandemic situation has evolved so much that a change in its position was warranted.
Legault emphasized the fact the health-care network is currently facing a labour shortage while also dealing with an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. He said his government was currently looking at any possible ways to fill in the gap.
“It’s not that we don’t have enough beds. We do,” Legault said. “We are missing nurses. We are in a situation where we are looking at what we can do. There’s not one stone left unturned. It has become part of what keeps me up at night. What can we do to bring in more nurses?”
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 515 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and no additional deaths attributed to the virus. Health authorities said hospitalizations climbed to 171, up 11 from Monday, while the number of patients in intensive care rose to 68, an increase of four.
Dubé said that the recent increase in hospitalizations mainly involves people who are not vaccinated, adding that those people should not prevent vaccinated people from returning “to a certain normality.”
Of the most recent infections, the province said 353 were among unvaccinated people or those who had received only one dose less than 14 days ago.
The province administered 10,042 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, for a total of 12,497,942.
About 87.8 per cent of Quebecers aged 12 and older have received at least one dose, while 82.1 per cent are considered fully vaccinated with two shots.