British Columbians wanting to visit places like restaurants and sports arenas will soon have to prove they have each had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, now that the province has become the fourth jurisdiction in Canada to adopt some version of a vaccine passport.
On Monday, the provincial government announced a new “vaccine card,” to be launched on Sept. 13. It will apply to what the province calls “a broad range of social, recreational, and discretionary events and businesses.”
The new system will allow people to show proof of vaccination on their phones or by calling a confidential hotline. It will not apply to places of worship or venues that provide essential services, such as grocery stores or hospitals.
Businesses that offer recreational services want to make sure they can continue to provide quality entertainment, Premier John Horgan told reporters Monday afternoon. “And they want to do it in a way that gives their patrons confidence that they’re taking every step possible to make sure they can attend an event, they can go to a spin class, they can go out for dinner and not be fearful that they may come into contact with someone who might be able to transmit COVID-19,” he said.
Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry told reporters the passport system is needed. Over the past month, she said, almost 90 per cent of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases, and 93 per cent of its COVID-19 hospitalizations, have been in people without two doses of vaccine.
Just more than 82 per cent of people aged 12 and older in B.C. have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Over the weekend, the province reported 1,711 new COVID-19 cases.
Under the new policy, any Canadian who visits B.C. from out of province will have to show proof of vaccination from their home jurisdiction if they want to access non-essential activities and businesses. Mr. Horgan said the details of how the government will verify out-of-province vaccinations are still being worked out.
Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Quebec had each previously announced various types of vaccine passport programs.
Scott Lear, a Simon Fraser University professor who studies how people make decisions about their health, said evidence from France and Quebec shows that vaccine passports spur more people to get vaccinated. He said he expected a similar bump across B.C. over the next few days.
“It’s a bit of a stick and a carrot because we’re saying, ‘Okay this is what you could participate in if you’re fully vaccinated.’ Or it could be looked at as, ‘This is something you could lose,’ ” Dr. Lear said.
Quebec’s passport will come into effect on September 1, in the form of a QR code accessible through a mobile app. It will be needed to enter places such as gyms, bars, restaurants and festivals. The passport will not be required to access essential services such as education, and employers will not be able to make possession of a passport a hiring criterion.
A survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies of 1,106 Canadian residents living outside Quebec found that three quarters of respondents would “strongly support” or “somewhat support” a vaccine passport such as the one Quebec is implementing. But some provinces continue to reject the idea.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he opposes a wide-ranging provincial passport. Organizations such as the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario have urged his government to implement such a system.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Kieran Moore, said last week that the province’s hospitals, as well as home-care and community-care services, must require employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers to have proof of vaccination, or to take frequent COVID-19 tests, no later than Sept 7.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has rejected the idea of a vaccine passport several times over the summer, and has raised concerns that passports would violate privacy laws. Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin has opposed Mr. Kenney, saying that a lack of regulation could lead to yet another lockdown for businesses.
Saskatchewan will not implement a provincial vaccine passport, but will continue working with the federal government on an official federal vaccination certification to support international travel, senior spokesperson Jennifer Graham said on Monday.
On Monday, reporters asked B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix whether provincial employees will be required to be vaccinated. Mr. Dix said only those working in the long-term care and assisted-living sectors will be required to have two doses by Oct. 12. He said his government may later impose mandatory vaccination on other areas of the healthcare system.
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, applauded B.C.’s move to implement proof of vaccination, which he described as tough medicine that his industry group urgently requires. As evidence, he pointed to the Okanagan Valley, where an explosion in case numbers in July led to restrictions on restaurants.
“It’s needed. If we look at what is going on in the Okanagan Valley, we don’t want to go there,” he said.
Arts groups also expressed relief at B.C.’s announcement. Some organizations had already been planning to implement vaccination requirements on their own.
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Angela Elster said having the universal, legislated system takes the heat off individual organizations and their front-of-house staff.
Corinne Lea, owner of the Rio Theatre, an independent Vancouver cinema that also hosts live events, said patrons will no longer be able to blame her staff for any pandemic-related rules. Ms. Lea, who has advocated for more clarity and support for arts organizations during the pandemic, said the sector cannot take more uncertainty.
“There is no way that I’m going back to random closures and more restrictions and more uncertainty. I just can’t live that way,” she said. “So to me the only path forward is vaccination and rewarding those who are vaccinated.”
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