Nfld. & Labrador

9 new cases of COVID-19 in N.L., with vaccine passport tweaks announced ahead of Friday start

Officials announced a few changes and addressed challenges around the province's vaccine passports on Wednesday afternoon, two days before they become mandatory for some non-essential activities.

Issues with MCP cards, QR codes being worked on, says health minister

Health Minister John Haggie shows a paper copy of the immunization record people receive as they get their COVID-19 vaccine. He says these papers will be considered proof of vaccination in the vaccine passport program, and will suffice for anyone who can't get a QR code in time for Friday's start. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/YouTube)

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting nine new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as officials announced a few changes to and addressed problems with the province's vaccine passports, two days before they become mandatory for some non-essential activities.

Seven of the new cases are in the Eastern Health region, one is in Central Health, and one is in Western Health. All are contacts of previous cases, save one in Eastern Health which is under investigation. Six of those new Eastern Health cases are under the age of 20.

"Delta is not done with us yet," said Dr. Rosann Seviour, the acting chief medical officer of health, at Wednesday afternoon's pandemic update, live streamed on the provincial government's YouTube page.

She said four schools in the province currently have active cases of COVID-19, in Marystown, Musgravetown, Lethbridge and St. George's. With Health Canada considering approval of vaccines for children aged five to 11, a vaccination plan for that age group is in the works, she said. Haggie said it may involve an in-school vaccination program, similar to the flu shot.

With 10 new recoveries from the virus since the last update, the province's active caseload ticks down to 46. Five people are in hospital, two of them in critical care.

Passport problems, tweaks

Ahead of Friday's vaccine passport implementation, Haggie said his department and the regional health authorities are aware there are some people having difficulty getting their necessary documentation in order, particularly people who were vaccinated outside Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The verification process with other jurisdictions is not seamless," he said. He said there is a two-week waiting period at the moment for a fix for out-of-province co-ordination, with staff at N.L.'s regional health authorities working on solving issues within the province.

Newfoundland and Labrador's vaccine passport will work similarly to Quebec's version, seen here. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Some people, including some new Canadians, are reporting struggles getting the necessary documentation as the system relies on MCP cards. Haggie said extra staff are working on the MCP system.

In cases where people aren't able to get the QR code needed for the passport to work by Friday, Haggie said showing the paper immunization records people were given at the time of their vaccinations — in Newfoundland and Labrador or elsewhere — is enough.

"This record will do in its place. It's a document that we have regarded, and will regard through this program, as adequate proof of vaccination," Haggie said. Businesses and organizations checking passports must accept them, he said.

Identification must also be provided when showing passports, and Haggie said those requirements have been tweaked for anyone over 19 following questions about the process. People can either show one piece of photo ID alongside their proof of vaccination with name and date of birth on it, or two pieces of non-photo ID, one of which must show the date of birth.

Rosann Seviour, the acting chief medical officer of health, offered condolences to the families and friends of those who have recently died from COVID-19. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/YouTube)

Medical exemptions and mental health

People with valid medical exemptions can obtain a QR code to take part in the passport program, and Haggie said his department is looking at expanding the criteria.

Haggie said only two reasons so far make the cut: a severe allergy or anaphylactic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine, or a diagnosed episode of myocarditis or pericaditis after getting an mRNA vaccine.

Those criteria were set out by the province's college of physicians and surgeons, said Haggie. 

"We have heard about mental health issues of some severity, and our mental health team are actually reaching out to the college," he said, saying any discussions are "at a very preliminary stage at the moment."

As it stands, a nurse practitioner or doctor must confirm a person meets the medical exemption criteria for it to be granted.

Haggie and Seviour both took time Wednesday to offer condolences for the recent deaths due to COVID-19.

Two more deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in the last pandemic update, on Monday, raising the total number of deaths due to the virus to 15. Eight of those have occurred in the past month amid outbreaks in parts of central Newfoundland.

On Tuesday, Eastern Health advised there had been exposures to COVID-19 at the YMCA in Marystown, and asked anyone who had visited the centre on Thursday between 4 and 5:30 p.m., Friday between 3:30 and 6 p.m., and on Saturday between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m to seek testing.

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