Quebec’s vaccine passport will be gradually phased out by March 14, the province’s health minister announced on Tuesday.
Starting Wednesday, passports will no longer be required to access big box stores, cannabis shops or liquor stores. It will no longer be required in places of worship and funerals from February 21.
“We are gradually removing it as we live to learn from the virus,” Health Minister Christian Dubey said.
The vaccine remains the passport for foreign travel, and Dubey said it could be used in the future if another COVID-19 wave hits.
“If I had some advice: put it on your phone,” Dubey said.
He said the removal of passports coincided with the arrival of large quantities of Pfizer’s PaxLovid COVID-19 antiviral pill, which he said would help protect those uninsured and most vulnerable to the disease.
The federal government announced that PCR testing requirements would no longer be required for fully vaccinated travelers from February 28. They can opt for a rapid antigen test from the country they are coming from. Passengers on arrival can still be selected for random testing.
Unvaccinated travelers will be required to be tested upon arrival in Canada and quarantined for two weeks.
Situation improving in Quebec
The news comes after Quebec’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and other numbers declined in recent weeks.
“Estimates are going in the right direction and the situation is slowly improving,” said Quebec’s Acting Director of Public Health, Dr. Luc Boileau.
“All of this gives us confidence that we can go back to a certain return to normalcy.”
Dubey praised the vaccine passport as a measure that helped Quebec return to normalcy by the end of summer 2021. About 600,000 Quebecers have been vaccinated since it took effect, Boileau said.
The Omicron mutation changed things, he said.
Quebecers only needed two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to obtain a passport. And the two doses do not produce the same protection against Omicron as they did against Delta, he explained.
“The situation is different with Omicron and in this perspective, it is important that people remain prudent and get their third dose,” he said.
According to public health estimates, the government could not extend the passport to three doses because it was too soon to do so – nearly two million Quebecers have caught the virus, representing about 25 percent of the population, since early December. Boileau said those people should wait eight to twelve weeks from their transition before getting a third dose.
By the time those two million Quebecers get the third dose, the current Omicron wave is expected to end, he said.
The interim health director said the omicron subvariant of the novel coronavirus, dubbed BA.2 by scientists, has been detected in the Montreal area and is accounting for about 10 to 15 percent of new cases.
Experts say the new mutation is about 30 percent more transmissible than the Omicron variant, but it is not more serious.
The minister said that the emergency will also be lifted on March 14.
“There are many measures which are currently underway which we still need,” Dubey said.
Public health monitoring must continue: Experts
An infectious disease physician at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Dr. Matthew Ogton said withdrawing the vaccine passport completely removes the incentive for vaccination, which he said was key in getting through the Omicron wave of the pandemic.
He told CTV News, “The reason we made it through Omicron without causing even more harm to our general population, let alone our at-risk population, such as those who are immunocompromised, largely Vaccines were due.”
One of their concerns is that removing vaccine passports while not making PCR testing widely accessible to the general public would create blind spots for public health departments of “early indicators of problems” in the community.
“By the time you see a change in the numbers in those light indicators, it means that … events that happened two or three weeks ago,” he said, adding that some form of adequate monitoring should continue.
Surveillance, he said, could be in the form of wider access to PCR tests and testing of wastewater for the presence of COVID-19, which was terminated in December due to lack of funds from the province. .
PCR tests have been reserved since January for health care workers, first responders and other at-risk populations.
Augton said he hopes the vaccination centers will remain accessible to the public and the education campaign about vaccination will continue.
“At the end of the day, two years after this pandemic, just because we’re too tired to deal with it and everyone is certainly too tired, doesn’t mean the virus suddenly decided to go away. is,” he said.
“if we [learned] If nothing else, you would think we would have learned that this virus will always find ways to surprise us. We should be ready for it now.”
“If we’re surprised again two years later, it’s up to us that we haven’t learned those lessons.”
Mask still required
Dubey said wearing masks is important and the emergency measures allow them to quickly renew contracts while hiring staff in clinics, which are still important strengths.
“The current situation does not allow us to lift the rules which are related to wearing of masks,” Dubey said. “The care system is still fragile.”
He said the recommendations could be revised in mid-March.
The province on Tuesday reported 56 deaths as well as 1,973 more infections in the death toll due to COVID-19.
However, hospitalizations continued to decline, with Quebec hospitals caring for 43 fewer patients on Tuesday than 24 hours earlier, for a total of 2,052. Intensive care numbers also fell by four, for a total of 132.
–With files from the Canadian Press.