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Quebec says 20K health-care workers off job from COVID-19 as hospitalizations reach record levels

Click to play video: 'Vaccines passports to be required to buy alcohol and cannabis at SAQ, SQDC  stores' Vaccines passports to be required to buy alcohol and cannabis at SAQ, SQDC stores
WATCH: As the COVID-19 situation in Quebec hospitals continues to worsen, the province announced more restrictions on the unvaccinated. In less than two weeks people without vaccine passports will no longer be able to enter the SAQ or the SQDC. Global’s Dan Spector reports – Jan 6, 2022

Quebec announced new public health measures Thursday aimed at encouraging non-vaccinated Quebecers to get their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Jan. 18, a vaccine passport will be required to access SAQ and SQDC stores that sell alcohol and cannabis products.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé made the announcement in Montreal as pandemic-related hospitalizations continue to skyrocket.

Liam Belcourt of the SAQ store workers union said there’s a lot of worry surrounding the new measure.

“There’s a lot of fear around potentially conflictual situations with people who are angry about this new rule and also about disappointing our regular customers,” he said.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Quebec reserves PCR testing to high-risk groups' COVID-19: Quebec reserves PCR testing to high-risk groups
COVID-19: Quebec reserves PCR testing to high-risk groups – Jan 5, 2022

The added workload incurred by having to scan vaccine passports at the door is also a concern, according to Belcourt.

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Dubé said proof of vaccination will also be required to access non-essential businesses providing personal care services. A date for when the new rule will come into effect has yet to be determined as discussions are ongoing with service industry providers.

Dubé said he hopes the new measures will act as an incentive for the non-vaccinated to get vaccinated.

Ultimately, though, Dubé said it was about protecting the non-vaccinated against themselves and protecting the health network.

Read more: COVID-19: Quebec bars and restaurants push to reopen to fully-vaccinated public

The government also plans on making three doses a requirement to qualify for a vaccine passport and be considered adequately vaccinated.

That new measure, however, won’t come into effect right away to give people the time to get their booster shot.

Dubé reiterated he’s aware of the sacrifices made by Quebecers.

“I know it’s not easy but it’s necessary,” he said.

On Thursday, Quebec reported that 415 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital while 212 were discharged for an increase of 203 over the previous day. Of the record 1,953 people now in hospital for COVID-19 in Quebec, 207 are in intensive care.

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Read more: Quebec schools will reopen for in-person learning as planned on Jan. 17

The previous high for hospitalizations at one time during the pandemic was 1,866 back in May, 2020.

The Health Ministry’s Dr. Lucie Opatrny said hospital beds are very disproportionately occupied by the unvaccinated in Quebec. Unvaccinated people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are being hospitalized while people in the same age groups who are vaccinated are not.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Canadian Armed forces lend a hand to speed up vaccination in Quebec' COVID-19: Canadian Armed forces lend a hand to speed up vaccination in Quebec
COVID-19: Canadian Armed forces lend a hand to speed up vaccination in Quebec – Jan 6, 2022

Dr. Ash Gursahany, associate director of critical care at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) explained that while the vaccinated are also ending up in intensive care, they usually have underlying conditions.

“They’re immunocompromised, have other diseases or on medications that predispose them to more severe illness,” said. “Whereas with the unvaccinated, we are seeing younger people who are just as sick without those comorbid diseases.”

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Dubé said modelling predictions released earlier in the day by the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) show COVID-19 hospitalizations for regular beds could surpass 3,000 patients in just two weeks, while intensive care beds could top 400.

“We’re seeing not only an increase of sick people in hospital on a daily basis, but we’re seeing that we’re losing personnel every day,” he said. “It’s the worst combination possible.”

Read more: Some overloaded Quebec health-care facilities forced to cancel staff vacations

An estimated 20,000 health-care workers are currently off the job because of COVID-19.

Gursahany said the situation is being felt on the ground.

“Our nurses are struggling very hard. Some are volunteering to do extra shifts and we’ve managed, for the most part, to keep our beds open.”

Dubé said discussions are ongoing with the various health worker unions to find solutions that would allow COVID-19 hospital beds to be increased by 1,000.

A spokesperson for the MUHC told Global News it currently has 116 COVID patients, 27 of whom are in intensive care units.
“Hospital capacity is constantly reevaluated as the situation evolves very rapidly. A plan for the next few weeks is in preparation based on the anticipated needs. Up until now, the MUHC has been able to meet the demands of the MSSS (health ministry),” the statement reads.
While the situation is worrisome, as the number of new infections has yet to plateau and the province is seeing positivity rates of 30 per cent, Dubé said there is hope.

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Modelling predictions have not taken into account the new measures put in place before the new year, such as curfew, because it’s too soon for them to have had an impact.

Officials are reporting 15,874 new cases today and 26 more deaths attributed to COVID-19.

To date, Quebec has recorded 696,182 infections, 567,715 recoveries and 11,846 deaths.

— With files from Global News’ Dan Spector and The Canadian Press

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