Manitobans who have been fully vaccinated will be able to travel within Canada without quarantining upon return and have expanded access to health care facilities such as hospitals and personal care homes.
The announcement by Premier Brian Pallister on Tuesday comes as provinces move to shorten the interval between vaccine doses and calls grow for national guidance for the fully immunized. As of Tuesday, 62 per cent of the Canadian population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 8.3 per cent is fully vaccinated.
Residents of Manitoba can apply for an immunization card two weeks after receiving their second shot – when they are deemed fully vaccinated. The digital and physical cards contain no personal health information or data, only the person’s full name and a QR code that shows the person is fully vaccinated, Mr. Pallister said.
Lifting the requirement to quarantine after interprovincial travel is one of the first benefits of being fully immunized, the Premier said. Expanded visitation to health care facilities, for instances when both patient and visitor are immunized, is expected in the coming week. People with both shots will also be exempt from self-isolation if they come into close contact with a COVID-19 case.
Quarantine after international travel is still required under the federal Quarantine Act.
“As we move forward with our reopening plans and more Manitobans get vaccinated, there may be more items or privileges available to those who have an immunization card based on the advice of public health,” Mr. Pallister said.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Quebec lifted its masking requirement for students while they are in classrooms and, as of June 25, the province will also relax masking rules for those who are fully vaccinated. Ontario is in the process of developing similar guidelines, said Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Christine Elliott.
But while provinces have begun rolling out local roadmaps to reopening, some experts say that clear national guidance for the fully vaccinated is needed.
Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and assistant scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 scientific advisory table, noted that national guidance is limited to population level, rather than individual level – advice that treats all Canadians the same irrespective of vaccination status.
“We’re telling people – because it’s true – that vaccines are remarkably effective at reducing infection and transmission, and then we have them get fully vaccinated and nothing changes in their lives,” he said. “We could potentially be undermining confidence, but the bigger issue is we could be incentivizing people who are on the fence ... to get vaccinated.”
Lynora Saxinger, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Alberta, said that one challenge of issuing national guidance is the need to navigate a patchwork of quasi-legal local public-health orders. Guidance on private interactions that improve quality of life may be one way to approach it, she said.
“For example, a group of vaccinated people can gather indoors, but if you’re unvaccinated, you have to be outdoors,” Dr. Saxinger said. “I think that seems justifiable to people overtly and wouldn’t necessarily cause the probable anger that would happen if, say, only vaccinated people can go to gyms before a threshold is met.”
In response to questions about whether the Public Health Agency of Canada would give advice for individuals who are fully vaccinated, as its counterpart in the United States has done, spokesperson Anna Maddison noted Canada’s approach is population-based.
Ms. Maddison said the PHAC will continue to work with the provinces and territories to consider the best approach to advising Canadians on best practices after vaccination.
“In the fall, if cases are low and two-dose vaccine coverage is high, public-health authorities will be able to lift more measures and Canadians should be able to do more diverse indoor activities with others outside your household while still following some personal preventive practices.”
Federal opposition parties say the federal government is behind on offering guidance for people who are fully vaccinated.
NDP MP Don Davies urged the PHAC to release new rules that are cautious but recognize that there is a benefit to vaccination. He cautioned that without such guidance, Canadians are left with a vacuum of information and may simply turn to the guidelines issued in the U.S.
In May, the Conservatives called on the federal government to release advice for fully and partly vaccinated Canadians.
“Clear advice on this issue, as other countries like the United States have provided, will provide hope and encourage Canadians to get vaccinated,” Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel Garner and Pierre Paul-Hus said in a joint statement.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first guidance for fully vaccinated people on March 8, updating it on May 28. People who have received both shots can resume normal activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by local laws or regulations; travel domestically without COVID-19 testing or quarantining; and travel internationally without testing before leaving the U.S. or quarantining upon return.
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-diseases physician in Toronto who sits on Ontario’s vaccine task force, said Canada could take a page from the CDC and integrate the protective nature of vaccines into public-health guidance.
He offered the example of grandparents who are fully vaccinated who can now hug their grandchildren without fear of contracting the virus, or fully vaccinated people able to have other fully vaccinated people over for dinner.
“That’s about as safe as it’s going to get in this era, so I think we could at least be mindful of what the data shows and create public-health guidance.”
With a report from Laura Stone
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