Alberta Reinstates Mask Mandate and Liquor Curfew, Implements Financial Incentive for Unvaccinated

Alberta is mandating masks in indoor public spaces, setting a curfew on liquor sales and offering $100 to unvaccinated people who get the COVID-19 vaccine, all in an effort to stem a fourth-wave surge. Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu announced the measures on September 3, saying the spread of the virus, particularly among unvaccinated Albertans, is putting pressure on the health-care system. Intensive care unit capacity is currently at 95% provincewide and 97% in Edmonton.

As of September 4, masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces and workplaces, however schools will continue to follow rules set by boards. Also restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs, nightclubs and other licensed establishments will be required to end alcohol service at 10 p.m. The officials said the measures would be temporary but did not give a date for when they expect to lift them.

A one-time incentive of a $100 gift card will be available for all Albertans age 18 or older who receive a first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine between Sept. 3 and Oct. 14. The premier estimated the gift cards would cost $20 million.

Kenney defended his government’s decision to implement less aggressive restrictions than during previous waves by saying the province was dealing with a smaller population of unvaccinated people. But he acknowledged that Alberta’s vaccination rates are about five percentage points below the Canadian average.

“That is why we’re getting hit harder. If the choice is between a sustained crisis in our hospitals or, God forbid, widespread restrictions, which I want to avoid at all costs, or finding some way to get the attention of those vaccine latecomers, we’re going to choose the latter,” said Kenney.

Just over 70% of Albertans 12 and older have received both of their doses of vaccine, and 78.3% have received at least one dose. Officials are also recommending that unvaccinated Albertans limit indoor social gatherings to close contacts of only two cohort families, up to a maximum of 10 people.

Support for vaccine passports

Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba have rolled out or announced vaccine passports, which require proof of immunization in order to access non-essential businesses — a move Kenney has vehemently rejected. Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the Premier’s decision to implement restrictions instead of passports will slow the province’s economic recovery. Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s pandemic committee, doesn’t think the measures are enough and was disappointed they didn’t include a vaccine passport program.

Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jeffrey Sundquist said businesses are now paying the price for those who’ve chosen to remain unvaccinated. “Restricting what they can sell at certain times of the day has an impact on their bottom line,” he said.

Without vaccine passports, Gibney foresees more restrictions like reducing capacity limits in stores or ending indoor dining. “Because they haven’t dealt with this properly, it is the inevitable thing that will happen,” he said.

77% of Albertans who responded to a Leger poll released this week said they either somewhat or strongly supported vaccine passports, although 20% of strongly opposed them — the highest rate among provinces.

City reviewing office plan

Meanwhile, the government is asking employers to pause return-to-office plans. All City of Edmonton employees were to go back as of Sept. 20, a plan acting city manager Stephanie McCabe said will now be reviewed. Edmonton’s mask bylaw was reinstated on September 3 after being deactivated since July 1. The province’s mandate will take precedence over the city’s, but peace officers will still be able to enforce and issue $100 fines for violations.

Source: Edmonton Journal

B.C. Introduces COVID-19 Vaccine Passport Card

Starting Sept. 13, the province of B.C. has announced that vaccine passports will be required in order to access non-essential businesses. One dose will be required to enter places like indoor concerts, sporting events, movies, and anywhere there is non-discretionary activities by mid-September.

By Oct. 24, only fully immunized people will be able to attend these settings, including indoor ticketed sporting events, indoor and patio dining in restaurants, fitness centres, casinos and indoor organized events, like conferences and weddings.

Full list of settings that will require proof of vaccination:

  • Indoor ticketed sporting events
  • Indoor concerts
  • Indoor theatre/dance/symphony events
  • Restaurants (indoor and patio dining)
  • Night clubs
  • Casinos
  • Movie theatres
  • Fitness centres/gyms (excluding youth recreational sport)
  • Businesses offering indoor high-intensity group exercise activities
  • Organized indoor events (eg. weddings, parties, conferences, meetings, workshops)
  • Discretionary organized indoor group recreational classes and activities 

“Providing advanced notice of this measure to stop the spread, keep people safe, and increase confidence will allow those who have not yet got their vaccine to take the necessary action to do so immediately,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said. There will be no exceptions.

The vaccine certificate system will limit where unvaccinated people will be allowed to go, and follows a push from restaurants and other businesses for the government to provide consistent rules.

“A secure weblink will be provided and publicized before Sept. 13, where people will be able to confidentially access their proof of vaccination. Individuals will be able to save a copy of their proof of vaccination to their phone to show it when entering or using designated businesses and events. Individuals who cannot access their proof of vaccination online will be provided with a secure alternative option,” the province said. A call-in centre will also be made available for people who cannot access their proof of vaccine online. 

There are some settings that do not qualify under the new measures. “Doesn’t apply to retail and grocery stores, areas where we don’t see a lot of transmission, and where we have other measures in place and they are essential services. What it applies to is those discretionary those social events, the arts, sports, the things that we want to need to get back to,” B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said said, explaining why the province picked certain settings. 

She says religious settings are not included under the order. Youth recreational sport is also excluded from the list.

Source: City News 

Vaccine Passports Come Into Effect in Manitoba Ahead of More Public Health Measures

Vaccine passports came into effect in Manitoba on September 3 as the province strengthens its public health measures to fend off a fourth wave. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is now required to enter a range of venues and businesses, including restaurants, bars, bingo halls, gyms and movie theatres.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, says the measure could help avoid another shutdown and encourage unvaccinated residents to get their shots. The province has already reintroduced a mask mandate for indoor public spaces and, as of September 7, has reducing outdoor gathering limits to a maximum 500 people from 1,500. Food courts, museums and galleries will also require visitors to show immunization records as of September 7.

Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, says the organization supports vaccine passports and is asking that the government order be respected. “Make no mistake, the business community would obviously prefer to have no restrictions in place … these new requirements are an effort to avert the need for more stringent public health restrictions,” Davidson said. 

Source: CTV News

Vaccine Passports Coming, Furey Says, as N.L. Reports 5 New Cases

Newfoundland and Labrador will be moving forward with a vaccination passport, according to Premier Andrew Furey. With 35 active cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador as of September 7, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health has also announced that 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.

“Our goal is to find a way to live with [COVID], and we can do this in two ways,” Fitzgerald said. “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.”

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. As part of the vaccination passport announcement,  Health Minister John Haggie said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians vaccinated outside the province will soon be able to receive vaccination documentation through an online portal that will launch on September 9.

No current changes to masking in schools

The report from the Health Department released on September 6 — 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.

Source: CBC

Ontario Announces Covid-19 Vaccine Passport for Indoor Activities to Start Sept. 22

Ontarians will have to show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering indoor businesses such as restaurants, gyms, nightclubs, theatres and banquet and meeting halls. Premier Doug Ford unveiled the plan, saying the new rules were needed to blunt the effects of the pandemic’s continuing fourth wave. 

Ontario’s new proof-of-vaccination rules come into effect Sept. 22, at first using existing printed or e-mailed vaccine receipts issued by the government and requiring patrons to show photo ID. A smartphone app, which will allow people to display their verified vaccination status with a scannable QR code, is being developed and is expected to launch Oct. 22. Quebec launched a similar app on September 1.

Ontario officials have been working with their federal counterparts on co-ordinating vaccine certificate plans for what could eventually be a document for international travel. Any proof-of-vaccination program requires access to provincial databases that actually track who has been vaccinated.

The science table warns that to avoid another lockdown, vaccination rates must “accelerate substantially” beyond 85% of eligible Ontarians – 76% are fully vaccinated now – with pandemic rules on masking, physical distancing, working from home and proof-of-vaccination certificates in place.

Ontario’s new rules will not apply to outdoor-restaurant patios, although outdoor areas of nightclubs are covered as they are considered higher-risk. Retail stores, salons, barbershops and places of worship are also not included. Unvaccinated people will not be allowed to submit a negative COVID-19 test instead of a vaccination certificate, but the system will allow for medical exemptions for those who are allergic to the vaccine or for whom it poses a health risk. Children under 12, who cannot receive the vaccine, are also exempt. Youth sports are also exempt, but some leagues have brought in their own vaccine policies.

The plan only considers people fully vaccinated if it has been two weeks since their second shot. Those who fail to follow the rules could face hundreds of dollars in fines. A special exception that expires Oct. 12 has been made for preplanned weddings and funerals, allowing attendees to show a negative COVID-19 test instead. Other details are still being worked out.

Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, praised the move but said the new rules apply only to customers, not to staff, meaning it is up to businesses themselves to demand that employees are vaccinated. He warned this could create a “patchwork of inconsistent policies.”

Source: Globe and Mail

COVID-19 Vaccine Passports Officially in Effect in Quebec

Quebecers will now have to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in order to gain access to certain non-essential services, including bars, restaurants and some sports. “We’ll watch how it goes and we will adjust as we go,” said Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé, adding further details will be revealed later in the week.

As of September 1, merchants have been required to ask anyone coming into their establishment to not only show proof of vaccination, but also a matching piece of photo ID. This will allow businesses to confirm that the people entering their space are “adequately protected” against the virus.

Certain groups will be exempted from the rule, including those who participated in the Medicago vaccine trial and those “with contraindications to vaccination against COVID-19.” Anyone who cannot be vaccinated against the virus will have to get a note from their doctor and bring it to a vaccination centre to then be able to register for their passport on Clic Santé.

“People from other provinces or countries will be able to present official proof of vaccination issued by the province or country of residence, as well as proof of identity with an address outside Quebec, to gain access to the places and activities covered by the rollout of the vaccine passport,” the ministry adds. Dubé states, for now, there is no plan to deploy vaccine passport inspectors, but anyone who does not comply with the health measure will be fined.

Quebec’s vaccine passport rollout hasn’t been without a few hiccups. The VaxiCode app became available to iOS users on August 25, but Android users had to wait several more days before being able to access the app on Google Play. In addition, many seniors and those who do not have smartphones had to print paper copies of their passports.

To see the complete list of activities covered by Quebec’s vaccine passport, click here (in French).

Source: CTV News

Yukon Government Rolls Out Vaccine Passports

The Yukon government is getting into the vaccine passport game. Premier Sandy Silver announced on September 7 that the government has launched a “vaccine credential” for Yukoners looking to travel outside the territory.

“We have an obligation to provide a certification that has less ability to be fraudulent, that is standardized right across Canada so it’s recognized, and so that’s what we’ve done,” Silver said. The service is available online, by phone and by mail. People who use the online service can get a PDF with their vaccine status immediately. The government says the handwritten cards given out when Yukoners get vaccinated are good enough to travel on for now, but that could change.

Yukon government officials said the online system does not access Yukoners personal health information to generate the passport. It accesses a sub-section of people’s health records in which there is only information about COVID-19 vaccinations.

The vaccination credential includes a person’s name, their date of a birth, a QR code, the number and type of vaccinations received as well as the dates on which they were administered. Officials said the QR code does not contain a person’s health number or any other health information. They also added the service is available to all Yukoners who have been vaccinated, including 11- to 17-year-olds.

Secure proof of vaccination is needed for Canadians returning from travel abroad and to access non-essential services in some places in Canada, Silver said. But Silver added that the vaccine credential won’t be necessary inside the Yukon. Silver said businesses asking for proof of vaccination will no longer have to rely on “the honour system,” but he said the Yukon government has no plans to bring vaccine mandates to services, or for government staff.

Catherine Elliott, the territory’s acting chief medical officer, said the Yukon’s vaccine rate is so high that vaccine mandates aren’t needed, though she said that could change in the event of a serious outbreak, particularly if the highly-contagious delta variant takes hold. She said daily outbreaks in western Canada remain a concern.

Currently 83% of people over 18 are vaccinated, just short of the government’s goal of 85%. But she warned that some communities, such as in southeast Yukon, still have low vaccination rates. So do young people: kids aged 12-17 are at 72%, while young adults aged 18-29 are at 77%. “Vaccinated people are like a firebreak in a forest fire,” Elliot said, adding that vaccination is important even if some vaccinated people get infected. 

Source: CBC