Quebec has announced its intention to impose a “health tax” on residents who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19 for non-medical reasons, as a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic overwhelms the province.
Premier François Legault on Tuesday announced the new ‘contribution’ for the unvaccinated as the province reported 62 new deaths, bringing the total number of people killed by Covid-19 in the province to 12,028 – the highest number in Canada.
“A health contribution will be billed to all adults who do not want to be vaccinated. We are there now, ”he said. “Those who refuse to be vaccinated place a financial burden on hospital staff and on Quebecers. The 10% of the population cannot weigh on the 90%.
The move follows the abrupt resignation of a senior provincial health official, amid growing anger over new lockdowns, full capacity hospitals and the slow rollout of vaccine boosters.
Quebec grabbed the headlines last week announcing that customers of cannabis and liquor stores would need proof of vaccination, leading to an increase in new bookings.
But while other provinces have stepped up the rollout of booster shots to fight the contagious variant of Omicron, Quebec has only recently opened access to residents 40 and older. In Ontario, residents over 18 can access the booster since mid-December.
News of the tax, the first of its kind in the country, comes less than a day after the province’s public health director resigned. Dr Horacio Arruda held the post for 12 years and was reappointed for another three-year term in June 2020, but has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks.
“Recent comments on the credibility of our opinions and our scientific rigor are undoubtedly causing some erosion of public support,” Arruda wrote in his resignation.
Arruda has been particularly condemned for allowing nursing home staff to move between sites during the first wave of the pandemic. The move played a key role in helping the virus spread unchecked and has contributed to more than 4,000 deaths, many among the elderly.
More recently, Arruda has been blamed for his rejection of the benefits of N95 masks, saying they were not necessary for teachers or healthcare workers. The Quebec Workers’ Safety Council disagreed and recently ordered healthcare workers to receive the most effective masks.
As the Omicron variant sweeps across the province, prompting new lockdowns and a government-ordered curfew – the only one in the country – Quebecers have been forced to take into account that their province once again appears to be among the most affected. regions of the country.
“I’m not going to mince my words: things are bad right now with regard to hospitalizations,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Center. “Whenever there is a ceiling, in terms of hospital capacity, the hospitalization rate exceeds that ceiling.
The provincial health minister estimated last week that at least 20,000 healthcare workers due to Covid-19 infections are 50,000 on burnout leave.
Quebec’s timing during the pandemic has often been unlucky: the first wave struck as families were traveling during school vacations, bringing the virus home on their return. But more than two years later, the province is still struggling to execute its plan to fight the virus.
It avoided access to rapid tests and has since cut off access to PCR tests due to overwhelming demand. On Tuesday, 600,000 boxes of rapid tests should be distributed in Quebec amid growing frustration among residents about the unavailability of the tools needed to fight the pandemic.
The government has sent mixed messages by imposing a curfew – but also by slowly rolling out booster vaccines, Vinh said.
Hospital admissions continue to rise and there is little indication that the province has reached its peak. Despite early hopes that Quebec could experience a rapid rise and fall similar to South Africa’s, Vinh calls these hopes “faintly naive” and that a new approach is needed.
“The virus will continue to spread here until we get it under control,” he said. “And wishful thinking isn’t the way we’re going to fight it.”