Quebec seeks to tax the unvaxxed as Omicron hits

By: AFP      Published: 11:29 AM, 12 Jan, 2022
Quebec seeks to tax the unvaxxed as Omicron hits
Representational image.

The Canadian province of Quebec, struggling to control the Omicron variant, will impose a new health tax in the coming weeks on those who are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

"We are working on a health contribution for all the adults who are refusing to get vaccinated" because they represent a "financial burden for all Quebecois," said Quebec Premier Francois Legault.

The 10 percent of Quebecois who have not yet received any vaccine doses must not "harm" the 90 percent who have, he said.

"It is not on all Quebecois to pay for that," he said during a press conference, specifying that the government of the French-speaking province wanted the tax to represent a "significant amount".

"I feel this discontent with regard to the unvaccinated minority which, all things considered, clogs our hospitals," he said.

The Quebec premier explained that these 10 percent of unvaccinated adults represent 50 percent of people in intensive care, calling it a "shocking" situation.

He said that those who are unvaccinated for medical reasons will be exempt from the move.

In total, 2,742 people with Covid are hospitalized and some 255 people are in intensive care in Quebec, which has about eight million inhabitants.

Hospitalizations also continue to increase in neighboring province Ontario, the most populous in Canada, with 3,220 people hospitalized and 477 people in intensive care.

In an attempt to stem the new wave of coronavirus infections, Quebec announced on December 30 the return of certain restrictions, including a 10 pm curfew and a ban on private gatherings.

And the province had recently announced that non-essential stores are closed for people who are not vaccinated, starting with stores that sell alcohol and cannabis. 

But Eric Duhaime, the head of Quebec's Conservative opposition party, decried the provincial government's anti-Covid strategy, tweeting that the new fee would only "divide" Quebecois.

And the head of Quebec's Liberal party, Dominique Anglade -- who is herself in favor of mandatory vaccination -- called the tax a "distraction."

Though Quebec is the first place to institute a specific tax, the pressure on those who remain unvaccinated by choice is ramping up throughout the world. 

France has instituted its so-called vaccine passport, and President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to "piss off" the unvaccinated.

Elsewhere in Europe, Austria has mandated coronavirus vaccines for every citizen, and Italy has done the same for over-50s. 

Singapore has said it will no longer cover the costs of Covid treatment for those who have refused the vaccine. 

At the federal level, the Canadian government has floated the idea of depriving the unvaccinated of unemployment benefits. 

US on 'threshold' of living with coronavirus

Despite soaring cases and record-high Covid-19 hospitalizations, the United States is approaching the "threshold" of transitioning to living with the coronavirus as a manageable disease, Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.

Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the top US scientist said eliminating Covid was unrealistic and that "Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody."

"There's no way we're going to eradicate this" virus, he said, given its contagiousness, its propensity to mutate into new variants and the large pool of unvaccinated people.

Those up to date with their vaccines remain well protected against severe outcomes, but vaccine efficacy against infection has fallen.

But "as Omicron goes up and down," the country will hopefully enter a new phase "where there'll be enough protection in (the) community, enough drugs available so that when someone does get infected and is in a high risk group, it will be very easy to treat that person," said Fauci.

"When we get there, there's that transition, and we may be on the threshold of that right now," he said, while also stressing that with the country currently recording almost a million infections a day, nearly 150,000 people in hospital and more than 1,200 daily deaths, "we're not at that point."

Official data showed there are currently 145,982 Covid hospitalizations, even though a significant percent are thought to be hospitalized "with" the disease rather than because of it.

Earlier, the 81-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases slammed vaccine skeptic Republican Senator Rand Paul for unleashing "crazies" who were threatening his life and harassing his family, in unusually emotional congressional testimony.

President Joe Biden's top officials, including his chief medical advisor Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walenksy and acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) head Janet Woodcock were summoned to testify before the Senate about the pandemic.

While many fellow lawmakers focused their questions on the lack of adequate testing and confusing new guidelines on how infected people should end their isolation, Paul, who has railed against vaccine mandates and refused to get vaccinated, said Fauci was personally to blame for people's deaths.

Paul faulted Fauci for hundreds of thousands of deaths that occurred since Biden took office -- although the vast majority of those fatalities were unvaccinated and health officials, including Fauci, have consistently advocated for vaccines.

- 'Kindles the crazies' -

"You personally attack me and with absolutely not a shred of evidence of anything you say," Fauci responded.

"All of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there and I have life threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children with obscene phone calls."

Fauci recalled that in late December, a man was arrested on his way from California to the capital Washington armed with an AR-15 assault weapon and multiple rounds of ammunition.

The man said he wanted to kill Fauci, because of what he said was blood on the scientists' hands. 

Fauci then brandished a printout from Paul's website that showed the banner "Fire Dr Fauci" next to an invitation to donate to the Republican's campaign.

Though Omicron causes severe cases at a lower rate than Delta, it is reaching more people because of its extreme infectiousness.

By December 27, the age-adjusted vaccine efficacy against hospitalization was 92 percent, according to data from New York state.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.