The rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has Canada’s Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos raising the possibility of government-mandated vaccination for the general public as a means of preventing the breakdown of provincial health care systems. Some provinces and territories have already embraced less sweeping vaccine requirements, but others have dismissed them. As a result, Canadians are facing a patchwork of rules and restrictions.
Here’s what you need to know about the ever-changing rules and vaccine mandates across Canada.
The federal government’s vaccine rules
- Public sector: Since Oct. 29, proof of vaccination has been mandatory for federal public servants and workers in federally regulated industries, such as banking. Anyone without proof, or an exemption on medical or religious grounds, has been put on unpaid leave.
- Domestic transport: Those travelling on cruise ships and VIA Rail trains have had to show either proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests since Oct. 30.
- International transport: Travellers looking to enter Canada, including Canadian citizens and permanent residents, must be fully vaccinated and show proof of negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 tests, taken no more than 72 hours before departing for Canada.
Vaccine mandates by province and territory
Choose a jurisdiction
As case numbers rose sharply in September, Alberta’s provincial government changed course on its speedy reopening plan, reintroducing physical distancing and declaring a new health emergency. As of Jan. 3, fully vaccinated Albertans only have to isolate for five days from the start of symptoms, or after symptoms resolve, whichever is longer. Anyone partially vaccinated will have to isolate for 10 days or until symptoms resolve, whichever is longer.
- Passports: Since Oct. 25, businesses such as restaurants, movie theatres and sports venues have had to demand that patrons show proof of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, or negative test results from the past 72 hours. Individuals can ask for medical or religious exemptions. Businesses can opt out of the passport regime, but if they do they face extra capacity restrictions.
- Public sector: Alberta Health Services employees had to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30.
- Gatherings: Indoor social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people who are 18 or older. There are no limits on the number of people aged 17 and younger if they are accompanied by parents or guardians. However, those aged 17 and under attending gatherings on their own do count towards the 10 person limit. Outdoor private social gatherings are allowed a maximum of 20 people, with social distancing between households. Restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs that opt into the province’s vaccine passport program can host up to 10 people per table. A full list of rules can be found here.
- Interprovincial travel: New arrivals to Alberta from within Canada don’t have to self-isolate.
British Columbia tightened public health restrictions after reporting a record number of COVID-19 cases on Dec. 21, 2021. Since Sept. 13, a provincial passport system has barred unvaccinated people from entering many non-essential businesses, sporting events and other recreational activities.
- Passports: Residents aged 12 and older have to show BC Vaccine Cards to access several non-essential services such as restaurants, clubs, ticketed sporting events and other large events.
- Public sector: The deadline for health care workers to get fully vaccinated was Oct. 26.
- Gatherings: Up to 10 people from multiple households are allowed to gather in a single home, and residents are allowed to have more than 10 visitors if they are all from just one other household. Small indoor events like parties, weddings and funerals have been banned in B.C., while larger indoor venues like concert halls and sports stadiums may operate at 50 per cent capacity.
- Interprovincial travel: Travellers do not need to self-isolate when entering B.C. from another province or territory.
Manitoba is at the orange – or “restricted” – level of its restrictions regime, although there may be more stringent rules in effect in certain regions.
- Passports: The province launched a digital vaccine passport in June. It started requiring residents aged 12 and older to be fully vaccinated to access a wide range of services starting Sept. 3 and expanded that list on Sept. 7.
- Public sector: The vaccination deadline for designated government employees came and went on Oct. 31. The list included front-line health care workers, public servants who work with vulnerable populations, and teachers.
- Public gatherings: Indoor gatherings of up to 10 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people are allowed if all the occupants are either fully vaccinated, medically exempt from vaccination, or under the age of 12. Indoor gatherings are limited to five people if anyone present is unvaccinated, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 10. Indoor public gatherings are limited to 25 per cent capacity or 25 people, whichever is lower; outdoor it’s 50 people.
- Interprovincial travel: Fully vaccinated people entering Manitoba don’t have to self-isolate, but 14 days of isolation are required for partly vaccinated or unvaccinated people. Within Manitoba, no travel north of the 53rd parallel is allowed, with some exceptions for residents and essential services.
New Brunswick is at Level 2 of the province’s Winter Plan, which allows:
- Passports: Since Sept. 22, residents have had to show ID and proof of full vaccination to access restaurants, bars, gyms, indoor festivals and an array of other activities.
- Public sector: Proof of vaccination has been required since Sept. 13 for public servants and health care workers.
- Gatherings: Under Level 2, indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to the household plus 10 consistent contacts. Public gathering spaces like restaurants, stores and concert halls may operate at 50 per cent capacity.
- Interprovincial travel: Travellers aged 12 and older have to register their vaccination status and those who are unvaccinated will have to quarantine for 14 days.
Newfoundland and Labrador
- Passport: The province has a system called NLVaxPass. Since Oct. 22, proof of full vaccination has been mandatory in places such as dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms, theatres and bingo halls. Employees at those places who are not fully vaccinated or medically exempt are no longer allowed entry for work or volunteer purposes.
- Public sector: All provincial employees were required to be fully vaccinated or have approved medical exemptions by Dec. 17. The mandate includes staff at long-term care centres, first responders and schools.
- Gatherings: Under Alert Level 4, all residents are urged to stay at home whenever possible. Organized gatherings of up to 50 (or 25 per cent capacity, if that is less than 50 people) are allowed indoors and outdoors, while restaurants can operate at 50 per cent capacity. Households can have bubbles of up to 10 close contacts. Here’s what the restrictions look like in other stages.
- Interprovincial travel: New arrivals from other provinces have to submit travel forms in advance. Fully vaccinated travellers must self-isolate on arrival for five days and are required to complete COVID-19 rapid tests once a day for five days until their isolation periods end; unvaccinated or partly vaccinated travellers must isolate until they get negative PCR test results on day seven or later.
The Northwest Territories’ Emerging Wisely plan doesn’t have phases. Instead, it provides residents with a fluid list of risk-reduction advice and estimated dates for when gathering limits, self-isolation requirements and permitted indoor activities will change.
- Passports: Residents can request QR-enabled vaccination records, but there is no organized system requiring them to be shown for access to local services.
- Public sector: All employees, including those who work in remote communities or with vulnerable people, had to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30. Any employee who can’t prove they were vaccinated or granted a medical exemption must wear personal protective equipment at the workplace and provide negative COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of going to work.
- Gatherings: Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, with a maximum of five non-household members allowed, while indoor venues like bars and lounges are allowed a maximum of six people to a table. Mingling between tables is not allowed.
- Interterritorial travel: Leisure travel to the Northwest Territories is prohibited. Fully vaccinated people can come for work or family reasons without having to self-isolate. For partly vaccinated people, isolation is a minimum of eight days, plus negative COVID-19 tests, and for unvaccinated people it’s 10 days.
Nova Scotia renewed its provincial state of emergency on Jan. 7. It will go into effect on Jan. 9 and measures are expected to last until at least Jan. 23.
- Passports: Residents aged 12 and older have had to show proof of full vaccination to participate in a range of “discretionary” activities since Oct. 4, either through a QR-code app called VaxCheckNS or by presenting other forms of vaccine certification.
- Public sector: The provincial government’s existing employees and all new hires were required to have proof of full vaccination by Nov. 30, 2021. Anyone unable to provide either proof of vaccination or a medical exemption will be put on unpaid leave until they can prove they have received their shots.
- Gatherings: Informal social gatherings of up to 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors are allowed. Proof of vaccination is needed for most gatherings outside of households, while masks and distancing are only needed in indoor venues that require them, like restaurants.
- Interprovincial travel: Everyone 12 and older from out of province has to check in before they travel to Nova Scotia, and they have to self-isolate for at least seven days unless exempted. Here is the full list of rules for all interprovincial travel.
- Passports: Nunavummiut can request vaccination records from the territory that come with QR codes.
- Gatherings: Indoor gatherings are limited to single households, and bubbles of five others for emergencies. A maximum of five people are allowed at outdoor gatherings. A “circuit-breaker” lockdown has been imposed in Nunavut, with all gatherings cancelled, and all libraries, gyms, and arenas closed. Restaurants are open for takeout only.
- Interterritorial travel: Nunavut is discouraging all non-essential travel within the territory and has banned non-essential travel to and from several communities, including Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Igloolik and Pangnirtung. Fully vaccinated people can apply for exemptions to Nunavut’s rules for self-isolation on arrival; if they’re not eligible, they must self-isolate for 14 days before they fly in via Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife.
- Passports: All residents of Ontario 12 and older have to show proof of vaccination to visit non-essential businesses. Since Oct. 14, Ontarians have been able to download new vaccine receipts that come with QR codes. Businesses are now able to use an app, Verify Ontario, to scan the codes.
- Public sector: Staff at long-term care homes had until Nov. 15 to be fully vaccinated, but at the last minute the province abandoned similar requirements for all health care workers.
- Gatherings: Organized social gatherings are limited to five people indoors and 10 outdoors. There are no limits on the number of people who can attend outdoor events like concerts, but masks are required if social distancing cannot be maintained. Retail stores, salons and indoor entertainment venues may operate at 50 per cent capacity, while all indoor dining has been banned.
- Interprovincial travel: There are no restrictions on domestic travel to Ontario.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island is extending temporary health measures, which include online learning in schools, until at least Jan. 17.
- Passport: The Vax Pass system, introduced on Oct. 5, allows islanders to download their vaccination records and show them for entry to restaurants and other services using a secure QR code.
- Public sector: There is no vaccine mandate in P.E.I., but the province’s Liberals have pressed the Progressive Conservative government to create one.
- Gatherings: Personal gatherings of up to 10 are allowed indoors and outdoors, and organized events require proof of vaccination for attendees. Residents above the age of 12 without medical exemptions are required to show proof of vaccination if they would like to access certain services, businesses and events throughout the province.
- Interprovincial travel: Fully vaccinated travellers are required to self-isolate until they get negative test results on day four after arrival, even with a PEI Pass. Unvaccinated and partly vaccinated travellers will need to self-isolate for eight days, get negative test results on the eighth day and complete self-isolation declarations.
Quebec was the first province to adopt a vaccine passport system, which allowed it to relax what were once some of the strictest COVID-19 rules in Canada. It has since once again imposed some of the toughest restrictions in the country, in an effort to quell rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
- Passports: Proof of vaccination through the VaxiCode app is required for access to bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, festivals, sports venues, cinemas, large events and both indoor and outdoor sports that involve prolonged contact, although most of those places have now been shuttered in an effort to curb rising cases of the virus.
- Public sector: Quebec used to require all health care workers to be vaccinated if their jobs involved regular contact with the public, but in early November the Legault government backtracked because of potential labour shortages if unvaccinated people weren’t allowed to work. With hospitals being overwhelmed by outbreaks, Quebec has reduced the isolation period for some workers from 10 to five days.
- Gatherings: Personal gatherings have been banned and a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. has been imposed, with exceptions for people who need to work during those hours. Fines for breaking the curfew can go as high as $6,000. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs are all closed, with only take-out, drive-thru and delivery options allowed at restaurants. Organized events like concerts have also been banned, and professional sports are only allowed to happen behind closed doors.
- Additional tax: Quebec Premier François Legault announced on Jan. 11 that Quebec will impose a tax on those who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 to offset their disproportionate cost to the health care system and encourage more people to get their shots. Few details have emerged on how much the tax will cost the unvaccinated, but Mr. Legault has said that the amount will be “significant.”
- Interprovincial travel: People from the rest of Canada can travel to Quebec without pre-registration or isolation on arrival.
Saskatchewan came around to the idea of vaccine passports much later than other provinces, and its current COVID-19 restrictions are looser than those in neighbouring Alberta and Manitoba.
- Passports: Residents have had to show proof of vaccination to access many indoor spaces since Oct. 1, 2021, and can now download QR code versions of their vaccination records through eHealth Saskatchewan. There is a QR reader app, SK Vax Verifier, that businesses and event organizers can use to scan the codes.
- Public sector: Employees of Crown corporations have to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on Jan. 7 that the province will not mandate vaccinations.
- Public gatherings: There are no limits on indoor or outdoor gatherings in Saskatchewan, although masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces.
- Interprovincial travel: Self-isolation is not required for visitors or residents returning from out of province.
Yukon announced a slate of new COVID-19 measures on Dec. 31, 2021. They took effect on Jan. 7 in accordance with the province’s emergencies act.
- Passports: Yukon created a digital vaccine credential program, and proof of vaccination is required to access most non-essential services.
- Public sector: All public servants in Yukon, including teachers and health care workers, had to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30, 2021.
- Public gatherings: Indoor gatherings have been restricted to a maximum of 10 people from two households if everyone is vaccinated. Gatherings are limited to household members only if anyone is unvaccinated. Up to 25 people can attend outdoor gatherings, regardless of whether or not they’re vaccinated. A full list of restrictions can be found here.
- Interterritorial travel: Those entering Yukon don’t have to self-isolate, but it’s strongly recommended that they wait 10 days before using non-essential businesses such as restaurants.
More coronavirus resources
With files from Salmaan Farooqui, Tamsin McMahon, Evan Annett and The Canadian Press
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