'No vaccine, no booze': Quebec introduces new restrictions for the unvaccinated

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By Josephine Joly  with AFP
The bar is empty at the Sheraton hotel during the coronavirus pandemic in Montreal, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.
The bar is empty at the Sheraton hotel during the coronavirus pandemic in Montreal, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.   -  Copyright  Paul Chiasson / AP

The Canadian province of Quebec, which is the most affected by a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the Omicron variant, has introduced new restrictions against unvaccinated people.

From now on, liquor and cannabis stores are only accessible to people who are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Health officials say they hope the order will encourage more people to get vaccinated, but Montreal residents seem to be divided over the decision.

"I understand that the government wants to encourage people to get vaccinated, so it's great if it works and there are fewer people in hospitals," said Kilian Belisle, a cinema student.

"We need to be able to go to stores or the SAQ (Société des Alcools du Québec, a Canadian government corporation selling alcohol) or even supermarkets, so yes we can't all have the ability to shop online or things like that," added Estelle Sterie, a clothing store employee.

New cases are spiking in Quebec despite the region having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with over 85% of the population having received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

The Canadian province is the most affected by the Omicron variant. On Thursday, health officials warned of a "tsunami" of new hospital admissions.

'If you don't want to get vaccinated, stay home'

Health Minister Christian Dubé warned that customers will have to display proof of vaccination to enter the government-run Société des Alcools du Québec and Société québécoise du cannabis stores.

"I'm just saying that if you don't want to get vaccinated, stay home," he said.

"If unvaccinated people are unhappy about it," Dubé added, "there's a very simple solution: getting vaccinated."

Proof of vaccination is already required in health facilities, theatres, bars, and indoor sport and performance venues.

According to the Quebec health minister, more restrictions "are coming soon".

Despite some previous restrictions being lifted, others remain in force, with restaurants, bars, and other public places still currently closed, and a curfew in place, running from 10 pm to 5 am each day.

Additionally, the unvaccinated will soon no longer have access to many other non-essential shops and stores of more than 1,500 m2.

A tax imposed on those who refuse the vaccine will also soon be the subject of a bill debated in the National Assembly, as the number of hospital patients could rise from 2,000 to 3,000 by mid-January, overwhelming the hospital system which is currently lacking approximately 20,000 workers.

"The unvaccinated represent about half of those currently in intensive care," according to Mr Dubé.