Quebec will require people to show proof of coronavirus vaccination when entering government-run stores selling cannabis or alcohol, the region’s health minister, Christian Dubé, said Thursday, as part of broader efforts to reduce COVID-19 patients in the province.

The move comes as Quebec, like other population centers in Canada and the United States, is seeing case counts rise rapidly. And though the province’s vaccination rate is near 80% – one of the world’s highest – hospitalizations are spiking, especially among the unvaccinated, and threatening to overwhelm hospitals, officials said.

The new requirement for patrons entering cannabis and liquor stores takes effect on Jan. 18. It will aim to persuade more Quebecois to get vaccinated, Dubé said, and thereby minimize the number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Quebec already requires people to present proof of vaccination when entering health-care facilities, indoor sports venues, movie theaters, bars and nightclubs. Exemptions apply to children under 13 and certain adults. As part of efforts to curb new infections, Quebec also has a curfew that runs from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“Yes, this is very difficult right now,” Dubé told reporters. “But we are [taking] all the measures, [to] make sure that we minimize the impact on our personnel, on our system.”

In early December, Canada’s seven-day average of newly reported infections was about 3,000, figures compiled by Our World in Data show. That number is now about 40,000. Quebec, home to Canada’s second-most-populous city, Montreal, has seen cases rise at a similar pace.

Dubé said Quebec’s latest preventive measure is not meant to irritate the unvaccinated, as French President Emmanuel Macron recently pledged to do. “It would be nice” to make them angry, he said, but Quebec’s policies primarily aim to reduce their contact with the immunized population – and to protect the unvaccinated from one another.

By mid-January, the number of Quebec’s covid-19 hospital patients may increase to 3,000 from the current 2,000, Dubé said. Those in need of intensive care may double, from about 200 to 400, in that span, he added. Quebec’s intensive-care capacity is 319 beds, according to a Montreal Gazette report on Wednesday.

About a fifth of Quebec’s 8.5 million people are not vaccinated. But they account for about half of the patients in intensive care, Dubé said. “We’re going to make sure they understand very well that if they can’t get vaccinated, then they should stay home.”

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