On Wednesday Quebec’s Health Minister, Christian Dubé, presented his long-expected bill to end the state of emergency put in place to help address the COVID-19 pandemic in the province. Bill 28, An Act to terminate the public health emergency, is comparatively brief next to some of the government’s other recent legislation and proposes a framework for a progressive withdrawal of remaining measures by the end of this year at the latest.
The bill’s call for measures still in force at the time the bill is passed into law to remain in effect until December 31 was criticized by opposition parties as political manoeuvring, given the fact that there is an election in October, but Dubé argued that the point of the extension is to account for the possibility of a sixth wave in the fall.
“We have been surprised by other waves in the past,” the health minister said adding that he feels “for the population, the state of emergency is over,” and that the measures that will remain in place are the organizational, behind the scenes components that have been used to help make the healthcare system more functional over the last two years.
Dubé said that he is open to working with the opposition parties to make Bill 28 better, but he also argued that some of the measures, such as the contracts that have been signed with medical suppliers, cannot simply be dropped overnight. According to the phrasing of the bill as presented, the government may extend or increase those contracts for up to five years, “until the stocks have been exhausted.”
The health minister said that the intention is to reduce the number of measures currently in effect to five or six key components by the time that the bill is passed, including things like the bonuses for nursing staff, authorizations for additional vaccination staff, and the provision that allows schools to conduct classes online, as precautionary measures. Once a measure has been withdrawn, he added, it cannot come back without the declaration of a new state of emergency.
“If we remove a measure, we cannot go back,” he said, “Our objective is to not have any more population measures.”
The timeline for the bill’s passage is now dependent on debate in the National Assembly, although Dubé said he hopes to see it come into effect by the end of April.
Asked about the choice to leave measures room to be in effect until the end of December, Vaccination Campaign director Dr. Daniel Paré pointed to the pattern of the virus over the last two years, with an increase in cases from August onwards.
“We want to continue to be ready,” Paré said, noting the tendency of infections to increase over the course of the fall through the end of the year.
There were 1,073 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across Quebec in Wednesday’s data, a decrease of nine compared to Tuesday. Of that total, 56 people were in intensive care, a decrease of 10.
In the Eastern Townships there were 67 hospitalizations with three in intensive care.
The province recorded 11 new deaths on Wednesday, for a total of 14,213 since the start of the pandemic. The number of deaths linked to the virus in the Eastern Townships increased by four since the last update in The Record, for a total of 546 to date.