Vaccine passports coming, Furey says, as N.L. reports 5 new cases
Passport will follow Quebec model, premier says
Newfoundland and Labrador will be moving forward with a vaccination passport, according to Premier Andrew Furey, as the province announced five new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
All of the new cases are in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region. Four are contacts of previous cases, while another is under investigation. One person is in hospital due to COVID-19.
There are also seven new presumptive positive cases: five in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region and two in the Western Health region.
With three new recoveries, there are now 35 active cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador. A total of 276,955 COVID-19 tests have been completed in the province, an increase of 1,031 since Monday's update.
There are now eight confirmed cases connected to an emerging cluster in the Labrador-Grenfell region. There are between 230 and 250 contacts connected to the cluster, with several large gatherings under investigation, according to Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health.
As a result of the cluster, Fitzgerald announced six communities on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula — Roddickton-Bide Arm, Englee, Conche, Croque, St. Julien's and Main Brook — will move into Alert Level 3, which requires residents to wear face masks in indoor public spaces.
Fitzgerald said she ordered those measures due to potential community spread of COVID-19 and a low vaccination rate in the area.
The outbreak is the third cluster currently under investigation by public health. The other two are in the Eastern Health and Western Health regions, which are still under investigation.
According to Fitzgerald, around 60 per cent people living on the tip of the Northern Peninsula have been vaccinated. Across the province, 76 per cent of the eligible population have been vaccinated with two doses, while 86 per cent of the eligible population has received one dose.
Watch Tuesday's briefing:
Fitzgerald said cases are being seen across the province in people who are fully vaccinated. Of 76 positive cases since July 1, 28 were people who were fully vaccinated, 12 were partially vaccinated, and 36 were not vaccinated.
Fitzgerald added there have been 31 breakthough cases — confirmed positive cases in people who are fully vaccinated — since Dec. 16.
"Our goal is to find a way to live with [COVID], and we can do this in two ways," Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "By increasing our vaccination rate, and two, by practising our tried and true public health measures."
Vaccine passport launching in coming weeks
Furey said Newfoundland and Labrador will take a similar approach to the vaccination passport as Quebec, which recently launched its passport program through a mobile app.
The Quebec model was chosen due to its initial success, according to Furey, who said the province didn't want to "recreate the wheel" when it came to operating a passport.
"This will be a little bit different in that we will be using this as a tool in a toolbox," Furey said. "Quebec has a very different epidemiological status than we do … so we wanted to make sure that we have a robust toolbox enabling us to apply different tools based on the science."
WATCH: Premier Andrew Furey shares details on N.L.'s planned vaccination passport:
Furey said his government will introduce the passport within a month. He said it will use a QR code to show vaccination status, meaning it can be printed and won't require an Internet connection to use.
Vaccination passports are being used across the country to ensure people entering high-risk areas are vaccinated, along with serving as a entry requirement at some sporting events and concerts.
The announcement comes on the heels of the George Street Festival in downtown St. John's, which critics targeted for allowing large crowds of people to gather without masks or physical distancing.
Despite backlash from the community and widespread sharing of photos and videos on social media, Health Minister John Haggie said his department has not received a formal complaint about the event mishandling COVID protocols.
"We have a complaints-driven process. A posting on Facebook doesn't constitute one," Haggie said.
"The plan on paper was vetted by public health … and they were under instructions to follow it. We have as yet in my department not had any formal complaints or allegations that this was not the case."
As part of the vaccination passport announcement, Haggie said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians vaccinated outside the province will soon be able to receive vaccination documentation through an online portal that will launch Thursday.
No current changes to masking in schools
Monday's report from the Health Department — which announced 15 new confirmed cases — also called for a delayed opening of three schools in the Roddickton-Bide Arm area to allow time for contact tracing. The schools are Cloud River Academy in Roddickton-Bide Arm, H.G. Fillier Academy in Englee and Mary Simms All Grade in Main Brook.
As other schools in the province prepare to reopen, Fitzgerald said public health is not ready to reintroduce mandatory masks in schools, but is prepared to change its position.
"Thankfully, the majority of students in our province will return to a low-risk environment," she said.
Fitzgerald said 70 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 to 19 are fully vaccinated, while 84 per cent of that age group have received at least one dose.