Quebec to charge those who refuse vaccine more than $100

Only 10 per cent of Quebecers aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, but they make up half the hospital beds being used by COVID patients, Premier François Legault repeated on Tuesday.

“I know you are fed up,” Legault said, addressing the 90 per cent of Quebecers who’ve had at least one vaccine dose.

As a “question of fairness,” his government therefore intends to make the unvaccinated pay at least $100 into Quebec’s public pharmacare plan, on top of their annual contribution at tax time.

All Quebecers must be insured for medication costs. Adults pay an average rate of $710 a year as part of the provincial income-tax return, as well as monthly charges that can’t exceed $1,161 a year.

Quebecers who aren’t in the public pharmacare plan must have private insurance for prescription drugs.

The details must still be worked out, but the amount charged would be over $100, Legault told reporters on Tuesday.

“The majority wants consequences,” he said.

The unvaccinated will be barred from Quebec’s government-owned liquor and cannabis stores starting Jan. 18.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said about 2,500 people are now in Quebec hospitals, either because of COVID, or because, after being admitted for some other reason, they tested positive for the virus.

If that level is maintained, hospitals in the province will need an extra 1,000 health workers, and nursing homes will need 1,500 extra staff, Dubé said.

The government is in discussions with the health sector’s five main unions about how to achieve this.

As many as 20,000 hospital staff in the province have been sidelined by COVID infections or exposure to those infected. Dubé has proposed allowing staff without symptoms to return to work sooner.

Some recovering COVID patients have been transferred to nursing homes, where outbreaks in the spring of 2020 killed about 4,000 residents.

Dubé insisted that wouldn’t happen again, because most residents have been boosted with a third vaccine dose, and the staff shortages that left residents with limited or no care have been filled.

Quebec has also requisitioned hotels in Montreal and Quebec City to free hospital beds, while providing accommodation for those who need it.

Dubé also said he hopes the 2,500 hospital patients marks a plateau, reflecting measures such as a provincewide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and the closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, casinos, cinemas, and non-essential retail outlets. Essential ones must close on Sundays.

These measures appear to have worked, said Luc Boileau, Quebec’s newly appointed director of public health, but he repeated the government’s mantra that “the solution (to limiting COVID’s spread) is through vaccinations.”

Quebecers age 40 and over are now eligible for a third dose, in addition to the immunocompromised, health and education staff, and anyone who got two AstraZeneca doses.

The age threshold for the third dose drops by five years every week, meaning those 35 and up can get their booster next week.

As head of Quebec’s Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux, Boileau has been part of the government team managing the pandemic response, and replaced Horacio Arruda as public-health director on Tuesday.

On behalf of all Quebecers, Legault offered Arruda his “enormous thanks” for working seven days a week to fight the pandemic, adding that, after a few weeks of rest, Arruda will return to the pandemic team in a role that hasn’t been decided yet.

Arruda charmed Quebecers at the start of the pandemic by using hand motions to explain the government’s goal of flattening the curve of infections, and proposing during the initial lockdown that people make their own natas, a Portuguese custard pastry.

He became so popular, there were even Arruda T-shirts.

More recently, however, he was blamed for Quebec’s slow start in offering boosters to protect against the Omicron variant, and for proposing that indoor holiday gatherings allow as many as 20 people.

That number was rolled back to 10, then to family bubbles only, as the number of COVID patients in hospitals and intensive-care units soared.

“Recent declarations on the credibility of our advisories and our scientific rigour led no doubt to some erosion in public adherence,” Arruda wrote in his resignation letter.

Boileau said he’s worked with Arruda and considers him a friend, calling him “brilliant” and “a very good person.”

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