BC is bringing in a new vaccine card system next week so that it doesn’t have to crack down with a fresh wave of restrictions on businesses this fall, says the province’s health minister.
Adrian Dix told Daily Hive in an interview that he and Dr. Bonnie Henry were presented with a choice between bringing back restrictions for everyone in the province due to a surge of cases caused by the Delta variant, or only restricting the unvaccinated while allowing freedoms for those who’d already chosen to get the jab.
“We’ve seen the rise of the Delta variant, and it has impacted unvaccinated populations,” said Dix.
“And so you’re presented with policy options of continuing to rely on measures that would affect all people, including the vaccinated, or focusing those measures on the unvaccinated and specific social circumstances.”
The result is BC’s new vaccine card system, details of which were released this week.
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British Columbians who want to dine in at a restaurant, go to a movie, continue indoor group fitness classes or access other “non-essential” businesses this fall will need to show proof of at least one vaccination shot by Sept. 13 and proof of full vaccination by Oct. 24.
“These are all difficult decisions,” said Dix.
“We spent, obviously, a lot of time thinking about this. But it became increasingly clear that this would be the most effective and least disruptive approach, given where the pandemic is right now.”
For some, the requirement comes as an abrupt surprise.
But Premier John Horgan foreshadowed it as far back as March 17.
“We will be making changes as more people get vaccinated,” he said at the time. “Those who have been vaccinated will have a bit more flexibility of course because they are less risk to the people around them, and the people around them are less risk to them.”
BC also needed to play catch-up with other provinces who’d brought in vaccine passports more quickly.
Quebec and Manitoba already have systems in place, and Ontario’s announced last week vaccine cards that launch Sept. 22.
BC also had to come up with some sort of proof-of-vaccine system for international travel, after Ottawa announced recently it would rely on provincial vaccine cards until it could create a national COVID-19 travel passport, possibly as late as next year.
Dix said that it was inevitable BC would go this way.
He said the province began to consider how to do so early this year when it launched the online registration systems to book people’s vaccination appointments.
“We knew, inevitably, because of what other jurisdictions would do, that we had to have systems that really worked for us and worked for us effectively,” said Dix.
“So those decisions that were really decisions made in January, February and March, have been helpful decisions because they’ve allowed these options technically to happen, so we weren’t starting from behind, which I think some other jurisdictions in the world have had to do.”
Approximately 85.2 per cent of eligible people in BC have had a first dose, and 77.7 per cent a second dose, as of Sept. 8.
But the rate dips to as low as almost 60 per cent in some areas of the province’s north, like Dawson Creek.
Many businesses, especially in low-vaccinated areas, are worried about how to enforce the new vaccine card when thousands of people in their community will have to be turned away.
But it would appear a majority of BC business groups are in favour, fearing that without the card system they’d face another round of catastrophic shutdowns.
For others, the vaccine card appears to have become the trigger that represents a step too far. A rising number of protests, and threats, against politicians centre around the argument that those who choose not to get vaccinated are being discriminated against with the changes.
Horgan attempted to counter that head-on this week.
“This is not about restricting people’s rights,” he said. “This is about giving more rights to those who have taken steps to protect themselves.
“There will be no services denied to any British Columbians as a result of the vaccine card. There will be no inability for people to go grocery shopping, to go into retail establishments.”
Part of the frustration appears to stem from the lack of clarity on the province’s future.
The vaccine card announcement came on Sept. 7, the day the province was supposed to transition to stage four, a return to near-normal.
That clearly didn’t happen, and it’s unclear when BC will be back in a position to relax to the next stage. Where the province once had a clear path to re-open, complete with benchmarks, now there is simply a vaccine card system in place until at least January.
Horgan attempted to reframe the missed stage this week by casting the vaccine card as a step forward in the return to normal.
“That’s why we brought forward the immunization card, the vaccine card, so that we can continue to keep the economy going, we can continue to give hope to people that there is an end to this, if they take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their families and their community,” said Horgan.
Dix too is attempting to reframe the cards as freedom, not punishment.
“It allows a whole bunch of things to happen,” he said.
“It’s freeing for many people in society. Many people view this as a negative incentive, and the nature of the public debate may drive that, but it’s really a positive instead. It says: Here’s all the things we can do if you’re vaccinated.”