Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube announced a plan on Tuesday to withdraw the vaccine passport system in the province in three steps between now and March 14. According to the plan presented, the passport will no longer be required for big box stores as well as the SAQ and SQDC as of Wednesday. The requirement will then be dropped for churches and funerals as of Feb. 21, and then everywhere else, including seniors’ residences and long term care homes, as of March 14.
“The vaccine passport has been and remains an important tool to fight the pandemic,” Dubé said, “We are withdrawing it gradually as we learn to live with the virus.”
The health minister discouraged people from deleting the VaxiCode app from their phones, stating that the system may be brought back in the future as needed to deal with new waves and pointing out that the proof of vaccination will likely still be needed for many international travel locations.
“We will continue to monitor the evolution of the situation,” he said.
Asked about the announcement in light of the fact that he had said, as recently as last week, there was no intention to withdraw the program for the immediate future, the Health Minister said that the decision was made based on the recommendations of the Public Health department, and encouraged people to take it as good news. He also denied any link between the decision’s timing and the ongoing protests regarding public health measures.
“We’re doing it because it’s the right time to do it,” Dubé said.
Dr. Luc Boileau, the province’s interim Public Health Director, said that previous plans to extend the vaccine passport system to a third dose were thrown for a loop by the Omicron variant. With more than a quarter of Quebecers having contracted the virus in the last two months, he explained, there is a significant delay to people’s eligibility to receive the booster. By the time these people can get the third dose, the current wave of the virus is expected to be over, making the extension of the system less important.
Asked about plans regarding mask mandates, Dr. Boileau said that although public health would eventually like to move to a system where people can use masks on a discretionary basis, there is no plan to withdraw mask requirements before March 14.
“The mask remains a significant tool that cannot be removed under the current circumstances,” he said.
Dubé said something similar about the provincial state of emergency, stating that even though the government is withdrawing many measures, enough of the pandemic response in the province is dependent on the status that it cannot be dropped without advance preparation.
There were 2,052 people in hospitals with COVID-19 across Quebec on Tuesday, a decrease of 43 compared to Monday. The number of people in intensive care with the virus also decreased, dropping to 132.
The federal government, meanwhile, announced changes to international travel procedures including an end to mandatory testing and quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals, and an end to the recommendation against non-essential travel.
Travellers to Canada will now have the option of using a COVID-19 rapid antigen test result (taken the day prior to their scheduled flight or arrival at the land border or marine port of entry) or a molecular test result (taken no more than 72 hours before their scheduled flight or arrival at the land border or marine port of entry) to meet pre-entry requirements. Taking a rapid antigen test at home is not sufficient to meet the pre-entry requirement – it must be authorized by the country in which it was purchased and must be administered by a laboratory, healthcare entity or telehealth service.
The province recorded 56 new deaths, for a total of 13,766 since the start of the pandemic.
Hospitalizations in the Townships dropped to 95 overall, with five in intensive care. This marks the first time since Jan. 3 that the number of covid patients in the region has been below 100, and the lowest number of intensive care cases since mid-December. Despite this improvement, however, there were seven new deaths linked to the virus in the region, for a total of 526.