Quebec’s tax on the unvaccinated could worsen inequity, advocates say – Canada News

The Canadian Press – | Story: 356735

Advocates working with Black and Indigenous communities say a proposal to make unvaccinated adults pay a financial penalty risks further entrenching inequities in Canada’s pandemic response, and adding another burden to those who are marginalized.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday the province is working on a health-care “contribution” that would be charged to all adults who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The plan landed as provinces try to navigate their response to record-setting caseloads, driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant, that doctors warn threaten to overwhelm hospitals.

Legault’s government is still working out the legalities, but the premier said the financial penalty will be “significant.”

That could be a problem for people who have been hesitant to receive the vaccine because of historic and present-day injustices, or face systemic barriers to accessing the vaccine, said Black Health Alliance executive director Paul Bailey.

“We know that can further undermine public trust in governments or just the confidence in the vaccine, period,” Bailey said in an interview.

As of Jan. 1, 2022, 87.6 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A report by the Black Opportunity Fund, African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council and Innovative Research Group found a 20-point gap between white and Black Canadians who had received at least one vaccine dose between May 18 to June 4, 2021, according to a survey of 2,838 respondents.

Because it was an online survey, a margin of error cannot be calculated.

“In parts of the country, let’s say in places like Toronto and Montreal, there are particular populations — Black, racialized, low- and very low-income — who have high COVID burden and lower COVID vaccination,” Bailey said.

“We know that they’re already living with the spectre of poverty and many other inequities, whether it be food insecurity, housing insecurity. And so for this specific population, applying a tax to them only further entrenches those inequalities.”

Provinces do not keep socioeconomic or race-based data about who has or hasn’t received a full slate of shots. Several health equity experts say there is evidence some have fallen through the cracks.

Caroline Lidstone-Jones, CEO of Indigenous Primary Health Care Council in Ontario, said regardless of the province, First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations have a history and real-life examples of being mistreated within health systems, which must be addressed.

Most recently, she pointed to the case of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, who died in a hospital near Montreal from a pulmonary edema linked to a rare heart condition.

Before she died, Echaquan filmed herself on Facebook Live as a nurse and orderly said insulting things about her– actions that were investigated as part of a coroner’s inquest that found systematic racism played a role in her death.

Lidstone-Jones said when it comes to serving the needs of marginalized populations, it’s not as simple advertising vaccine availability because people don’t always have access to the internet, where a large part of health education and resources are found.

“How do you tell somebody who’s worried about meeting their basic needs, that now I’m going to charge you because you can’t even meet your basic needs, as you know, clothing, food, shelter?” she said Tuesday.

“That’s a really hard sell when somebody may be worrying about being on the streets and being able to feed themselves or their families versus getting access to a vaccine.”

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said the goal should be to help those who are on the margins of society see that they belong in medical system and that getting vaccinated protects not only themselves, but their families.

He said the policy of levying a financial penalty against unvaccinated adults runs the risk backfiring among those who are low-income as well as those who distrust the system.

Speaking more broadly, Muhajarine said it’s unclear how many vaccine holdouts will be compelled to get jabbed because of a new fee and said the policy carries the potential of making individuals dig their heels in even further and accuse the government of behaving like a “nanny state.”

Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Katharine Smart said Quebec’s proposal speaks to how strained the health system is in parts of the country as leaders look for ways to protect hospital capacity over the long term.

“None of these are things that anybody wants to be doing.”


The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 4:05 pm | Story: 356724

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the West must be ready to impose further sanctions against Russia for its military buildup on his country’s eastern border.

Zelenskyy delivered that message to Trudeau in a Tuesday morning telephone call, which came on the eve of a key meeting in Brussels between the 30-country NATO alliance and Russia.

The meeting is aimed at defusing the ongoing tension between the West and the Kremlin as the Russian military is massing on Ukraine’s eastern border, stoking fears of an invasion.

Russia has called on NATO to guarantee it won’t expand eastward into Ukraine, a demand the alliance and Ukraine itself flatly reject.

“The position of Western countries in the dialogue with Russia must remain firm and decisive. It is necessary to be ready for the immediate introduction of a preventive package of sanctions against Russia to counter the Kremlin’s aggressive intentions,” the Ukraine foreign ministry quoted Zelenskyy as saying.

He reiterated to Trudeau that the West should not back down to Moscow’s demands on curbing NATO expansion.

“No one but Ukraine and NATO should influence the process of our integration with the alliance,” Zelenskyy said.

According to a Canadian account of the phone cal, Trudeau “reaffirmed Canada’s steadfast support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and emphasized that any military incursion into Ukraine would have serious consequences, including co-ordinated sanctions

“He emphasized the co-ordination underway between Ukraine’s partners in order to stand united in the face of Russian provocation.

Zelenskyy also pushed Canada to extend its contribution of 200 military personnel to a NATO military training mission in Ukraine that is set to expire at the end of March.

The two leaders also “agreed on the need to make joint efforts to get adequate compensation” for the families of the 176 passengers who were killed when the Iranian military shot down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 two years ago. The majority of those killed were from Canada as well as nationals of Ukraine, Sweden, Britain and Afghanistan.

Earlier Tuesday, Ukraine’s foreign minister said any NATO concession to Russia that it would not expand the alliance eastward would be a strategic defeat.

“The Russian Federation had initiated talks on the so-called ‘security guarantees’ to raise the stakes to the maximum by making intentionally unacceptable demands,” said Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in a statement that was provided by the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa.

“The situation appears especially cynical as Russia is demanding security guarantees at a time when its over 100,000-strong force is brandishing arms on Ukraine’s borders, holding Crimea hostage and fighting in Donbas, Russian special services are undermining security at Belarus’s borders with Poland and Lithuania, and gas supplies are being transformed into an instrument of foreign policy.”

In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of its Moscow-friendly leader and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s east, where more than seven years of fighting has killed over 14,000 people.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany has helped end large-scale battles, but frequent skirmishes have continued and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have failed.

Zelenskyy met Tuesday with French and German officials who visited Kyiv after talks in Moscow the previous week to discuss prospects for another four-way meeting of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine France and Germany on the conflict.

“It’s time to have substantive talks on ending the conflict, and we are ready to make the necessary decisions during a new summit of the four countries’ leaders,” Zelenskyy said.

As Wednesday’s talks drew closer, the divide between the United States and Russia remained wide.

“We will not allow anyone to slam NATO’s open-door policy shut,” said U.S. Ambassador Julianne Smith.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meawhile, told reporters: ”We see no significant reason for optimism.”

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 4:04 pm | Story: 356723

Federal COVID-19 vaccine contracts mean Canada should get enough doses to give two or three more mRNA shots to every Canadian, every year until at least 2024.

But even as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is now suggesting some Canadians get in line for the fourth dose of vaccine, the World Health Organization is warning “repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition” are not a sustainable plan to end the pandemic.

The contracts back up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statements Monday that Canada will have enough doses for third and even fourth shots if they become necessary.

Signed last year, the contracts are to bring up to 65 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and 35 million doses of Moderna to Canada this year, and then 60 million Pfizer and 35 million Moderna in each of the next two years.

With a population of 38 million people, that is more than two doses per person, per year, for a country where 77 per cent of the population already has the two doses required, and 27 per cent have now received a third dose.

Most provinces moved to start swiftly offering boosters to adults in December as the Omicron variant was breaking through vaccine barriers, even though it is proving to do well at keeping most vaccinated patients with COVID-19 out of hospital.

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a British Columbia pediatrician and co-chair of the WHO’s clinical research committee on COVID-19, said the booster response is panicky politics not public health.

“It’s a continually boost and boost and boost and hope that the virus will eventually go away or will build up enough of a immunity wall so that the virus can’t creep over it and get into Canada,” he said.

Murthy said with Omicron there is some data that suggests a third dose is doing better at preventing infection outright than the original two doses, but he said there is no evidence a fourth dose is helping at all.

In early December, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that moderately or severely immune compromised people may need a fourth dose. For many of those people, whose immune systems are weakened and didn’t mount the same robust reaction to the vaccines as fully healthy individuals, the third dose was seen not as a booster, but as the completion of the vaccines needed to be considered fully vaccinated.

Several provinces are already offering those fourth doses, including Ontario where fourth dose campaigns in long-term care and retirement homes are underway.

The WHO’s vaccine technical committee Tuesday said vaccines need to become more effective at keeping up with emerging variants and there are some in development. But the committee said in the absence of those vaccines for now, and the need for vaccine equity, “a vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable.”

Murthy said if the goal is just to get movie theatres and restaurants open temporarily until the next variant hits, then a booster strategy might work.

“If your goal is to save lives, and to have a durable, sustainable pandemic closure, then getting vaccine to places that need it the most, to develop at least some immunity in those populations, is going to be the most useful way of using a vaccine.”

Canada has donated about 12.7 million doses, and administered almost 72 million. It hasn’t made a new donation since Dec. 21, but since that time 5.2 million booster shots were given in Canada.

Canada says it will donate 200 million doses by the end of the year, including 50 million directly and the rest from cash given to the COVAX vaccine sharing alliance. But it’s not clear how many doses are even available for COVAX to purchase, while countries like Canada continue to snap up more and more of the available supply.

Globally, the wealthiest countries in the world have boosted about one-fourth of their populations, while in the poorest countries more than five in every six people are still waiting even for their first dose.


The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 12:16 pm | Story: 356684

One of the largest business groups in the country says a sweeping review of the employment insurance system should consider whether to turn parental benefits into a separate program.

It’s an idea that has been floated previously, to hive off the special benefits for new parents from the EI system, given the growth in demand for the leaves.

Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says the idea has been raised anew by businesses during recent meetings on the future of EI as one piece of a larger puzzle to modernize the decades-old system.

The Liberals have promised to unveil a road map for a renewed EI by September, and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough was scheduled to start hosting regional roundtables about the future of the program.

In a tweet, Qualtrough says the meetings build on last fall’s consultations with employer and worker groups about how to better support gig workers, self-employed and seasonal workers in the system.

The message setting up the meetings also noted the need to improve support for workers during life events like the birth of a child or adoption.

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 10:59 am | Story: 356671

Quebec has become the first province in Canada to announce a financial penalty for residents who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Adult Quebecers who won’t get vaccinated and don’t have a medical exemption will be forced to pay a health “contribution,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault told reporters on Tuesday. Legault said the amount of the penalty hasn’t been decided but will be “significant.”

About 10 per cent of adult Quebecers aren’t vaccinated, but they represent about half of all patients in intensive care, Legault said, adding that the unvaccinated should be forced to pay for the extra burden they are placing on the health-care system.

“I think right now it’s a question of fairness for the 90 per cent of the population who made some sacrifices,” Legault said. “I think we owe them this kind of measure.”

The government last week announced it would expand the vaccine passport system by requiring proof of vaccination to enter liquor and cannabis stores. Health Minister Christian Dubé has said he was mulling extending the passport further, to shopping malls and personal care salons.

Legault said Tuesday, “Yes, we will continue to look at spreading the use of the vaccine passport, but I think we have to go further.”

The premier announced the new financial penalty shortly after introducing his new interim public health director, Dr. Luc Boileau, the head of a government health-care research institution called the Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux.

Dr. Horacio Arruda resigned as public health director on Monday after the Quebec government faced weeks of criticism from the opposition and pundits for its handling of the latest wave of COVID-19. Quebec’s health-care system is under enormous stress from the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 patients, and the latest restrictions — including a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew — are some of the strictest in the country.

The opposition has said Arruda, who usually appeared in public alongside Health Minister Christian Dubé and Legault and whose advice to the government was often delivered orally behind closed doors, was too close to political decision makers.

Earlier Tuesday, Quebec reported 62 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, pushing the total number of people killed by COVID-19 in the province to 12,028, the most in Canada. The Health Department said COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 188, to 2,742, after 433 people were admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours and 245 were discharged. The number of people in intensive care rose by seven, to 255.

Quebec reported 8,710 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, which were the result of more than 51,000 tests, 20 per cent of which came back positive.

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 9:04 am | Story: 356648

Montreal police say a man experiencing homelessness died after spending the night outside in extreme cold.

Police say they responded to a call about a case of possible hypothermia Monday night at an encampment in the city’s west end.

They say a 74-year-old man was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Environment Canada says temperatures in Montreal hovered around -20 C Monday night, and the weather agency says the extreme cold will last until Wednesday.

Quebec’s public health director on Monday night called on shelters to disregard pandemic-related capacity limits and fully reopen to people experiencing homelessness.

The coroner’s office is investigating the man’s death.

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 7:14 am | Story: 356636

Justin Trudeau says Canada will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for all those eligible to receive a fourth dose if needed.

The prime minister spoke with provincial and territorial leaders yesterday, and a statement issued by his office says he assured them Canada has secured enough shots for a third and potential fourth round of vaccinations.

The statement says Ottawa will do all it can to help provinces and territories cope with the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infections fuelled by the Omicron variant threaten to overwhelm health systems.

The federal government has said provinces and territories will receive a combined 140 million rapid tests this month, although the statement did not provide any new details on when the deliveries will be scheduled.

The statement says Trudeau also emphasized the need to promote support programs, such as the federal wage subsidy, to help people and businesses survive the latest lockdowns and public health restrictions.

The call with the first ministers came as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continue to surge throughout Canada.

Quebec reported an all-time high of 2,554 patients, 248 of whom are in intensive care, while Ontario confirmed 2,467 hospitalizations and 438 patients in the ICU.

The provinces also recorded a combined total of 20,279 new COVID cases, although the true number is likely much higher due to a lack of access to testing.

The Ontario government is expected to provide an update today on the capacity of its health-care system in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The rampant spread of the Omicron variant across the country has stoked alarm south of the border, where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a fresh Level 4 “avoid travel” advisory for Canada, citing a “very high” level of COVID-19 in the country. It urged anyone who must go to be fully vaccinated.

That quickly prompted the State Department to revise its travel advisory, which had been at Level 3, “reconsider travel,” to upgrade its advice to Level 4: “Do not travel to Canada due to COVID-19.”

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 7:12 am | Story: 356635

As Quebec officials consider tightening the rules for the unvaccinated, health experts in the province say expanding the vaccine passport system is justified because of the high number of COVID-19 patients in hospital who have refused to be jabbed.

Others, however, say the people who are rejecting COVID-19 vaccines are doing so out of ideology and likely won’t be swayed by the government’s latest restrictions.

Last week, Health Minister Christian Dubé said proof of vaccination will be required to shop at Quebec’s cannabis and liquor monopolies starting Jan. 18 and that the passport could be expanded further to include businesses such as shopping malls and personal care salons. Quebec’s college of physicians on Friday said the vaccine passport should be required for places such as large department stores, libraries and museums.

Dubé has repeatedly said that about 10 per cent of Quebec adults are unvaccinated but represent about 50 per cent of COVID-19-related hospitalizations. But data published by the Health Department on Monday indicated that 32 per cent of the 4,094 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past 28 days had either been unvaccinated or were fewer than 14 days removed from their first dose.

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University Health Centre, said he supported an expanded vaccine passport system because it could encourage more people to get vaccinated. Any reduction in the number of COVID-19 patients in Quebec’s hospitals would help, he added.

“If anywhere between a third to a half of those hospitalizations could be prevented, we would not be having a concern about our surge capacity,” he said in an interview Monday, adding that the vaccine passport is necessary “not to eliminate hospitalizations but to prevent those that are preventable.”

Quebecers must show proof of vaccination to enter places such as gyms, restaurants and bars, which have been closed since mid-December. Liquor and cannabis stores, however, remain open, as are malls and other retail stores.

Vardit Ravitsky, a professor of bioethics at Université de Montréal, said that as the pressure on the health-care system rises, so does the justification for measures that push people to get vaccinated.

“Right now, the numbers are scary, because the rate of transmission, the rate of infection is very high and the risk is to our health-care system,” she said in an interview Monday. “Therefore, the risk is to everybody and especially to vulnerable people.”

Ravitsky said she sees vaccine passports as way to encourage people to get vaccinated — making them less likely to require a hospital bed.

“The number one reason is to incentivize, to encourage vaccination, by telling people, ‘look, you have a choice,'” she said. “Of course you have a choice: we’re not going to show up at your door and tie you down and vaccinate you. But if you make a choice, it comes with a price tag and the price tag is becoming higher and higher, because your choice is creating a higher and higher risk for us.”

While there are other measures that could be taken to encourage vaccination, such as fines, she said the passport system is fairer than the alternatives. Given the risk to the health-care system, Ravitsky said she sees the vaccine passport as a justified limit on freedom.

“Freedom is never absolute and without limits,” she said. “I don’t have the freedom to drink a bottle of wine and get behind the wheel.”

Kim Lavoie, co-director of the Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre, said that while she agrees the government should restrict the movement in public places of unvaccinated people, she’s not convinced expanding the passport system will change their minds.

“Their behaviour is not tied to the pandemic; their behaviour is more tied to ideology,” she said.

While the number of first-dose appointments has increased significantly in Quebec over the past few days, Lavoie said she doesn’t think it’s related to the expansion of the vaccine passport to cannabis and liquor stores. More than 50 per cent of those new appointments were among children five to 11, she said.

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 6:55 am | Story: 356632

A new poll suggests a slim majority of Canadians support the latest round of lockdowns and other government-imposed restrictions as the Omicron variant continues to fuel an explosion in new COVID-19 infections.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents in the poll conducted by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies agreed governments are making the right decisions to limit the spread of Omicron and keep the health system from being overrun.

Another 31 per cent said they did not believe Omicron poses a serious health risk to most of those who are infected, and that governments should leave things open and let Canadians live with the risk.

The remaining 14 per cent said they did not know.

The results suggest there is a growing level of fatigue among Canadians when it comes to lockdowns, including among those who have been fully vaccinated, said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

“The actual support for vaccination is very high, the perceived efficacy is very high,” Bourque said. “Even among the vaccinated, they’re saying: ‘You know what? I’m vaccinated, I’ve done all I could. Let’s just live with it.’”

The online survey of 1,547 Canadians was conducted between Jan. 5 and 7. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

The results come as the Omicron-fuelled wave is threatening to overwhelm hospitals in several parts of Canada, with hospitalizations nearing or reaching record highs in Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick.

While governments and public health officials have emphasized the need for lockdowns and restrictions to prevent a catastrophe, the poll suggested a growing number of Canadians are unhappy with how their governments are handling the pandemic.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with the federal government’s response to COVID-19, which was a drop of five per cent from the beginning of December. Those were the exact same results as for municipal governments.

Provincial governments also saw a five per cent decline, with only 58 per cent saying they were satisfied with how their provinces are responding to the crisis.

Bourque said the results suggest a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are growing impatient with those who have refused to get their shot.

Sixty-four per cent of respondents said they supported vaccine passports for malls and other retail outlets, including liquor and cannabis shops but excluding grocery stores. The poll showed 61 per cent of respondents wanted vaccine requirements for public transit users.

Almost two-thirds of respondents also were in favour of creating separate areas in hospitals and clinics for unvaccinated patients.

“It’s kind of, ‘come on guys, just get the damn shot,’” Bourque said.

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 6:38 am | Story: 356627

Long-term care homes accounted for nearly 70 per cent of deaths during the pandemic’s first wave in Quebec, but the risk was not prominent on the government’s radar as COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, a former assistant deputy minister of health told a coroner’s inquest Monday.

Pierre Lafleur, who was responsible for quality control and planning in the Health Department, testified that a letter sent to civil security coordinators of health-care facilities on Jan. 28, 2020, amounted to a “yellow” flag. Its message, he said, was effectively, “Something might happen, we have to get organized and here’s what we expect you to do.”

Lafleur told the inquest into deaths at long-term care homes led by coroner Géhane Kamel that the letter was nothing surprising, and its focus was not the care homes but health-care facilities in general.

Testifying before the inquiry last fall, Danielle McCann, who was health minister in the early months of the pandemic, pointed to the January letter as evidence that her government acted early and took exceptional steps to protect long-term care homes, known as CHSLDs in Quebec. She said the homes, where almost 4,000 people died between March and June 2020, had not been neglected.

Kamel observed Monday that the letter sounded no alarm. “Basically, there is nothing in this letter that tells people: ‘Be careful, this is your first red flag concerning CHSLDs,” she noted. Lafleur said it was the public health director’s role to raise a red flag during a pandemic.

He also testified that it was only in mid-March 2020 that the specific question of the pandemic hitting long-term care homes was brought before a key committee on which the minister and health authority representatives sat.

“I remain worried …. I’m not hearing anyone really tell me what is happening between January and March, and I’m in the home stretch (of the inquest),” Kamel said.

Earlier, Kamel had announced that the much-anticipated testimony of Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais would be delayed until Friday because of a lack of space in the courthouse in Trois-Rivières, where this stage of the hearings is taking place. Kamel is scheduled to hear final observations from Jan. 17 to Jan. 21.

The Canadian Press – Jan 11, 2022 / 6:35 am | Story: 356626

Quebec provincial police say at least two people are dead after an explosion Monday in a home in Saguenay, about 250 kilometres north of Quebec City.

Police say the explosion occurred around 10 a.m. in the city’s Arvida sector, blowing out a window of the basement apartment where it took place.

Saguenay firefighters and local police quickly converged on the scene and found two bodies.

Provincial police were called in to take over the investigation due to the deaths.

Sgt. Hugues Beaulieu said the exact number of people inside the unit was not immediately known.

Beaulieu said forensic teams and explosives experts will attempt to clarify the circumstances.

The Canadian Press – Jan 10, 2022 / 8:19 pm | Story: 356619

Quebec’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, tendered his resignation on Monday, citing an erosion in public trust as the province grapples with record hospitalizations during a fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier François Legault accepted the offer, with Arruda’s departure confirmed to The Canadian Press by the premier’s office.

His resignation comes as the province is in the midst of a surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the more transmissible Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, Quebec reported 2,554 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 — a new pandemic high — as well as 248 intensive care cases. The province has reported 11,966 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Arruda wrote in a letter dated Monday that his office has offered public health opinions and recommendations amid uncertainty and based on the best available knowledge and various expert opinions.

But he acknowledged there was a “certain erosion” in public support for health measures.

“Recent comments about the credibility of our opinions and our scientific rigor are undoubtedly causing a certain erosion of public support,” Arruda wrote. “In such a context, I consider it appropriate to offer you the possibility of replacing me before the end of my term of office.”

Arruda’s contract was renewed for three years in August 2020.

In recent weeks, the province has brought back several stringent health measures including a curfew for a second year in a row amid rising infections and hospitalizations.

There were also calls to replace Arruda previously over comments that the use of rapid tests or even wearing a mask gives a false sense of security.

Legault will hold a news conference on Tuesday to address the departure.

Legault had given Arruda a vote of confidence on Dec. 30 in announcing several further measures including the curfew, with the premier insisting he was the right person to lead the public health department.

Arruda has been at the forefront of the province’s COVID-19 pandemic response since it was declared in March 2020, seen as a reassuring figure as the province was hit hard during the pandemic’s first wave.

Arruda had held the post of public health director since the summer of 2012. In his resignation letter, he offered to serve the government in a different post.

“Do not see in this gesture an abandonment on my part, but rather the offer of an opportunity for you to reassess the situation, after several waves (of the pandemic) and a context in constant evolution,” Arruda wrote.

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