MONTREAL — The Legault government announced that all health and social services workers in Quebec must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15 or face suspension without pay.
Quebec’s health minister Christian Dubé made the announcement during a news conference Tuesday alongside Premier François Legault and his director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda.
The new mandatory vaccination requirement applies to public and private sectors workers, and it goes a step further from the previous mandate which applied only to workers who deal with patients for more than 15 minutes.
When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether it will apply to cleaning staff and security personnel in health-care settings, Dubé bluntly replied, “Everybody.”
“Our health network is already under a lot of pressure, particularly in the Montreal region. We cannot, therefore, accept that workers put vulnerable people at risk,” said Dubé.
The health minister also announced that anyone visiting a hospital must present their vaccine passport.
The government, however, will make some exceptions. For example, an unvaccinated person who wishes to visit a dying loved one in a hospital will be allowed to enter the facility, according to the health minister.
UNVACCINATED FILLING UP HOSPITAL BEDS
Tuesday marked the first week since the province’s new VaxiCode vaccine passport was introduced. It is required to access various non-essential services, such as bars, restaurants, theatres, and some sports activities, among others.
The government has said that the use of the vaccine passport is meant in large to prevent another lockdown, as well as keeping businesses open in the midst of a fourth wave.
On Tuesday, the province reported 515 new COVID-19 cases as well as an increase of 24 new hospitalizations since Friday. The vast majority of the new cases (403) are among people who are not fully vaccinated.
The officials lambasted those filling up hospitals and taking the place of other people waiting for surgeries and other procedures at a time when there is a current shortage of nurses, particularly in the intensive care ward.
“Clearly, for non-vaccinated [people], you’re taking the place of somebody that should be in your place,” the health minister said.
The premier said the government is “turning over every stone” to bring back some nurses to the health-care sector, including retired nurses, since lack of nurses is creating the bottleneck in care.
“And it’s not that we don’t have enough beds. We have enough beds,” he said.
“But there’s an overflow, it’s full to the brim, because we don’t have enough nurses, so of course, we are in a situation where we are looking at what we could possibly do.
Legault noted that in the past month, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 shot up from 55 to 171. The province has vaccinated 87 per cent of the eligible population with one dose of the vaccine as of Tuesday.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot, 13 per cent, but it’s hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “Of course, we can’t allow [those] thousands of people to end up in our hospitals.”
More than 6,029,252 people, or 80 per cent of the eligible population, have received both doses.
‘THIS IS NOT A RESPONSIBLE DECISION’: UNION
Unions representing Quebec health-care workers, however, have condemned the government’s decision to make vaccination mandatory for its members.
While they agree vaccines are important in the fight against COVID-19, they say a blanket mandate will be “dangerous.”
“We are already living with a serious labour shortage in the sector. This announcement risks creating service disruptions in our institutions,” said Isabelle Laperrière, interim president of CUPE’s Conseil provincial des affaires sociales, in a written statement.
“This is not a responsible decision on the part of the government.”
CUPE, which represents more than 122,000 members in Quebec, said vaccine mandates for only workers who deal with patients for more than 15 minutes would have been a more “reasonable” approach.
Sylvie Nelson, president of the Syndicat québécois des employées et employés de service, affiliated with the FTQ, said she feels like the government made the decision “in haste.”
“As a union organization, although we are completely in favour of vaccination, we have no choice but to defend our members’ rights. It is not only our mission, but also an obligation imposed on us by the legal framework,” she wrote in a statement.
“We are waiting for the ministerial order to know the details of the announcement and the exceptions that could be included in it in order to determine what action we will have to take,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, the interim president of the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS) said the employees who are vaccinated “will be going through hell because of the lack of personnel as of October 15.”
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