'Not clear' if new border rules apply to Quebecers who have had COVID-19 and one dose

It's unclear whether Quebecers who have had COVID-19 and one dose of vaccine can benefit when the federal government lifts quarantine rules for fully vaccinated travellers on July 5, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Monday.

Quebec considers residents who have recovered from the novel coronavirus and who have received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine to be fully vaccinated. Ottawa, however, defines a fully vaccinated traveller as someone who has received two doses.

"It's part of the discussions," Legault told reporters about talks between Quebec and the federal government. "But it's not clear at the moment … our specialists say (those travellers) should be considered as completely vaccinated," he said. Legault acknowledged the discrepancy between definitions could cause issues when it comes to travel.

Earlier on Monday, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said starting July 5, air travellers who have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks won't have to spend any time at a quarantine hotel, and neither air nor land travellers who are fully vaccinated will have to quarantine at home at all as long as they test negative before and after arrival.

For now, the new rules only recognize the four vaccines Canada has authorized and will not apply to most foreign nationals.

Quebec's Health Department has said a previous COVID-19 infection triggers an immune system response similar to the response from a first dose of vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), however, has said people with a previous infection "should continue to receive a complete vaccine series at the recommended intervals, regardless of the severity of their previous infection."

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday the question has been put to federal experts, with hopes for a swift response.

"We've actually asked the scientists and the scientific community to study this issue and to give us advice as the understanding evolves around the protective nature of vaccination on top of having had COVID and recovered," Hajdu told reporters.

"We know that in Quebec this is considered fully vaccinated and we'll be watching that science carefully."

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at McGill University Health Centre, said the literature on the matter is pretty clear. "If you have previously been infected with COVID and you got one dose, we know that one dose of vaccine acts like a really good boost and should consider you a fully vaccinated person," he said.

Quebec's Health Department said Monday the proof of vaccination it offers doesn't identify someone as having been infected with COVID-19.

"The electronic proof of vaccination with QR code indicates the dose(s) that citizens have received, it does not mention the notion of having had the disease or not or the notion of being adequately vaccinated," the department said in an email. "This information will be added over the next few weeks."

Meanwhile, Quebec on Monday reported fewer than 100 daily COVID-19 infections for the first time since August, with just 90 new infections and no deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health authorities said hospitalizations from COVID-19 dipped by two, to 168, with the number of patients in intensive care stable at 39.

Legault received his second dose of COVID-19 vaccine Monday in Montreal, administered at Olympic Stadium by Regine Laurent, a well-known nurse and union leader, and he urged all Quebecers to get a second dose. While just over 80 per cent have received a first dose, only about 19 per cent of Quebecers over 12 are fully vaccinated.

Also on Monday, three more regions moved into the least-restrictive green level of the province's COVID-19 response plan.

The regions of Bas-Saint-Laurent, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and Mauricie and Centre-du-Quebec saw an easing of public health measures, including the limit on gatherings in homes, which in green zones can host up to 10 people from three different addresses.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2021.