QUEBEC, Canada’s second most populous province, is planning to force adults refusing to get vaccinated to pay a “health contribution”, a move that could start a debate about individual rights and social responsibility.

Premier Francois Legault said on Tuesday that the proposal, details of which were still being finalised, would not apply to those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons.

Governments have imposed movement restrictions on the unvaccinated and few have levied fines on the elderly, but a sweeping tax on all unvaccinated adults could be a rare and controversial move.–Legault and his CAQ party face a provincial election in October. REUTERS

While such a tax could be justified in the context of a health emergency, McGill University medicine and health sciences professor Carolyn Ells said, whether it survives a court challenge would depend on the details.

But Ells expressed surprise that the government was taking such a “dramatic” step now, when options such as further expanding vaccine mandates remain.

Provinces across Canada are tackling an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases that has forced tens of thousands of people into isolation and burdened the healthcare sector.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has made it difficult for restrictive measures to curb the spread and health experts have stressed the importance of getting double and tripled vaccinated.

Quebec has been one of the worst-hit, regularly recording the highest daily count of coronavirus cases of all provinces and having several thousand healthcare workers off their jobs.

“The vaccine is the key to fight the virus. This is why we’re looking for a health contribution for adults who refuse to be vaccinated for non-medical reasons,” Legault said.

Legault said that even though the province has about 10% unvaccinated people, they account for about 50% of those in intensive care units.