B.C.'s COVID-19 vaccine card system good first step, medical group says

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's COVID-19 vaccine passport system is being praised by provincial groups representing doctors and the restaurant industry as unvaccinated residents continue to drive COVID-19 cases across the province.

Dr. Matthew Chow, president of Doctors of B.C., said getting vaccinated is "massively important" in driving COVID-19 case numbers down and reducing infections.

"I think this is going to be a fairly successful program," he said in an interview Wednesday.

The province reported 841 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and no new deaths.

The Ministry of Health says from Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 77.8 per cent of COVID-19 cases. And from Aug. 24 to Sept. 6, the government said that group accounted for 85.9 per cent of hospitalizations.

Chow said the passport system highlights how important vaccinations are in reducing infections.

"The data coming from all the countries around the world with high vaccination rates ... demonstrates the yawning chasm between the outcomes for people who are unvaccinated and ending up in hospital and people who are fully vaccinated," he said.

Chow's group would also like to see mandated vaccines for all health-care workers, similar to what is being done with long-term care staff.

British Columbia released details of its vaccination card system Tuesday, with residents required to display the card to access non-essential businesses starting Sept. 13.

British Columbia joins Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba in introducing similar programs. Yukon announced an online vaccine credential system on Tuesday, but it will serve only as proof of vaccination for residents travelling in other jurisdictions.

Until Sept. 26, people will still be able to use the paper record provided at a clinic or pharmacy after their first or second dose of a vaccine.

Ian Tostenson, the president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said his organization is pleased with the system that was unveiled on Tuesday.

"It will allow us to stay open," he said Wednesday. "(The pandemic) has been really tough on people in our industry."

But, he added, he hopes those opposing COVID-19 vaccinations don't take their frustrations out on staff.

Tostenson also said he believes the passport system will help prevent further restrictions that could hurt restaurants.

"Could it stop shutdowns? I think so," he said. "There's nothing much else we can do."

The passport system has been criticized by those who do not want to get vaccinated.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said protesters rallied outside the group's building for hours on Tuesday to oppose its support of the vaccine passport so businesses can continue operating.

Huberman said she's also concerned that some people may say they're unvaccinated but still insist they have a right to enter businesses, where the safety of employees could be threatened.

"It's all very concerning. You just don't know what's going to happen with some people and how they're going to respond as the pandemic continues. People are exhausted and want to go out and enjoy their freedoms."

Demonstrators also gathered outside Vancouver's city hall on Wednesday to protest the vaccine passport system. A nearby intersection was blocked for about an hour before the group marched downtown across the Cambie Street bridge, flanked by police.

— With files from Camille Bains and Brenna Owen.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2021.

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