Quebec plans to push vaccine passports, citing the delta variant as justification
By Nolan Barton // Aug 09, 2021

Quebec's Premier Francois Legault announced Thursday, Aug. 5, that the Canadian province plans to introduce a vaccine passport to counter the latest wave of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the spread of the delta variant.


"The principle behind the vaccine passport is that people who have made the effort to get their two doses should be able to live a semi-normal life," Legault said in a press conference.

Legault said the system would allow the province to avoid the widespread closures that have marked its pandemic response to date. He did not specify the date the vaccine passport will be introduced in the province, where 83 percent of people 12 years and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose – including 67 percent fully vaccinated.

"We will give certain privileges to those who have agreed to make the effort to get their two shots," Legault said.

For several months, the province has been issuing QR codes, or quick response codes, to vaccinated people. These codes, which can be printed or stored on a mobile device, are scanned to pull up information about a person's vaccination status. (Related: Canada is turning into a "COVID Police State," warns constitutional lawyer.)

Legault said the rising case numbers and the prospect of more hospitalizations and deaths have made a vaccine passport system necessary.

The province recorded 305 new coronavirus cases on Thursday – the highest daily increase since May 30. On Wednesday, Aug. 4, Quebec's Ministry of Health and Social Services told CTV News that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people accounted for 92 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Quebec from July 1 to 24.

"The purpose of the vaccine passport is to allow access to non-essential activities for properly vaccinated people," said Marie-Louise Harvey, a media relations officer for the ministry. "Its specific use will be determined according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation and the vaccination coverage in Quebec."

Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist, said the government no longer has the luxury of waiting to convince everybody of the merits of vaccination. "Because of delta, we have to be strategic. It's time to do it now," Baral said of the passport system.

Quebec uses vaccine passports as a selective lockdown targeting the unvaccinated

For months, the Legault government has warned that vaccine passports may be necessary if the epidemiological situation worsens.

Last month, Quebec's Health Minister Christian Dube said that residents of the province who are not fully vaccinated may see themselves shut out of places and activities deemed "high" or "moderate" risk as an alternative to a generalized lockdown.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he fully supports Quebec's decision and is looking to implement vaccine passports in other interested provinces to facilitate international travel. Trudeau added that he was considering the possibility of making vaccination mandatory for all federal employees.

The prime minister told the media that "there are no more excuses" to wait to get the vaccine since the country now has enough doses for every eligible Canadian. "We need to get vaccinated to get through this pandemic, particularly with the real concerns around the delta variant that we are facing, that is striking hardest, obviously, on under-vaccinated and non-vaccinated people," Trudeau said.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for left-wing party Quebec Solidaire, said it is "very disappointing" that the Legault government sidestepped a "real public debate" on the rollout of the vaccine passport at the National Assembly.

"It is a measure that is not trivial and that should have been discussed in full transparency in Parliament, with experts," Nadeau-Dubois said in a written statement. "We are impatiently awaiting the details of this possible vaccine passport."

New York becomes first US city to require vaccine passports

An American city beat Quebec by a couple of days in announcing the use of vaccination passports in its jurisdiction. On Tuesday, Aug. 3, New York became the first city in the U.S. to announce that it would require proof of vaccination for people attending indoor venues such as restaurants, gyms and shows.

The city's proof of vaccination requirements will start on Aug. 16 and be enforced starting on Sept. 13. For proof, people can use their paper vaccination cards, the NYC COVID Safe app or the Excelsior Pass.

IBM developed the Excelsior Pass under an estimated $17 million contract with the state of New York. To obtain the pass, people need to upload their personal information. (Related: OBEY: New York becomes first state to launch "vaccine passport" for coronavirus jab recipients.)

Under the standard version of the pass, businesses and third parties see only whether the pass is valid, along with the person's name and date of birth. The Excelsior Pass also has Phase 2, which could involve expanding the app's use and adding more information like personal details and other health records that could be checked by businesses upon entry.

IBM has said that it uses blockchain technology and encryption to protect user data, but did not say how.

Vaccine passports have largely been rolled out without a national framework in the U.S. President Joe Biden has ruled out a national vaccine pass, leaving states, cities and private companies to determine whether and how to have their own electronic systems to keep track of vaccinated people.

Follow for more news and information related to coronavirus vaccines.

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