B.C. announces new COVID-19 vaccine card required for wide range of public activities
New public health order covers a number of non-essential recreational and social activities
The B.C. government has announced a plan to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who wants to attend a concert, sporting event, movie, restaurant, nightclub, casino or fitness class.
The new "B.C. vaccine cards" will be implemented on Sept. 13, Premier John Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters on Monday.
"Getting vaccinated is the way forward through this pandemic," Horgan said.
Initially, eligible British Columbians will require proof of one dose of vaccine. By Oct. 24, two doses will be required. The cards will be required for a wide range of non-essential recreational and social activities.
B.C. won't take next step in restart plan
Henry said that unvaccinated people currently account for about 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases in B.C., and 93 per cent of hospitalizations. The risk of infection is about 10 times higher for people who aren't vaccinated, she said.
"These numbers are a stark reminder of why vaccines are important."
WATCH | Henry explains new rules around vaccination records:
Health Minister Adrian Dix also confirmed that because of increasing case and hospitalization numbers, B.C. will not move on to the next step in its COVID-19 restart plan on Sept. 7 as intended.
The number of cases has surged in the Interior Health region, forcing officials to expand restrictions in the Central Okanagan — such as mandatory mask wearing and reduced limits on indoor and outdoor events — across the entire region.
Henry said there will be some discretion in areas of high transmission to require proof of vaccination before Sept. 13.
Places requiring proof of vaccination
The new vaccine card will be available online for use on a smart phone, but for those who can't access proof of vaccination digitally, the province says a "secure alternative option" will be available. Horgan said efforts are underway to make sure the cards can't be forged or hacked.
The full list of activities covered by the new rules includes:
- indoor ticketed sporting events
- indoor concerts
- indoor theatre/dance/symphony events
- restaurants (indoor and patio dining)
- night clubs
- movie theatres
- fitness centres/gyms (excluding youth recreational sport)
- businesses offering indoor high-intensity group exercise activities
- organized indoor events (e.g., weddings, parties, conferences, meetings, workshops)
- discretionary organized indoor group recreational classes and activities
- student housing on college and university campuses
The cards will not be required at grocery stores and other retail settings, where Henry said there haven't been high levels of transmission. They also won't be necessary to enter a place of worship.
Henry said there will be an exemption for children under the age of 12, but not for people who are unable to receive the vaccine for health or religious reasons.
Proof of vaccination will also be required for people visiting from out of province. Dix said the logistics for Canadian visitors will be determined on a province-by-province basis. People visiting from outside Canada will be required to show the proof of vaccination they used to enter the country, along with their passport.
The new measures will be in place until at least Jan. 31, 2022.
As of Friday, 83 per cent of eligible British Columbians 12 and older had received their first dose of vaccine. Around 74 per cent of those eligible had their second shot.
Anti-vaxxers hold communities ransom: B.C. mayor
In Nelson, B.C., where COVID-19 numbers are spiking and vaccination rates are relatively low, Mayor John Dooley said he's in full support of the plan.
"I honestly believe that the passport is the way forward because it's unfair and disrespectful for people that are not vaccinated — that have no intention of being vaccinated — to hold the rest of the community at ransom," he told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South.
As of Friday, just 72 per cent of eligible Nelson residents have received a first dose of the vaccine, compared to 83 per cent provincewide.
Dooley said he knows there are people in the community who just haven't gotten around to getting their shot, and a vaccine passport should be the encouragement they need. As for those who simply refuse, "They shouldn't have the same privileges that we have."
Dooley said that he has spoken to many local restaurateurs and people in the entertainment business, and they are generally supportive of the idea.
"I actually believe that a vaccine passport will improve business opportunities because people will feel safer going out," he said.
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, says his organization supports the stronger measures especially as the delta variant takes hold.
"We feel good about it," Tostenson said.
He noted 15 to 20 restaurants had to be closed in the Interior due to COVID-19 outbreaks there — something he wants to avoid for the rest of the province.
"Business is down 50 per cent. They're laying off staff. It's a mess," he said.
"We need to go to the next level or we're going to be faced with closures in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver and it's just going to keep going round and round in circles."
Those sentiments were echoed in Surrey, B.C., where the local Board of Trade quickly came out in support of the vaccination cards.
"The goal in the future is to have a co-ordinated, national approach to show proof of vaccination," the board's CEO Anita Huberman said in a news release.
"A short-term proof of immunization strategy is an important temporary measure that the Surrey Board of Trade has been calling for, to the B.C. Government, as well as to the federal government."
With files from Roshini Nair, Daybreak South, the Canadian Press, On The Coast and On the Island