New B.C. vaccine card will be required to enter events, theatres, gyms, restaurants

A B.C. vaccine card will be required for entrance to non-essential activities including concerts, sports, arts and cultural events, and restaurants starting in September.

“This is a step we believe is important at this point in the pandemic,” Premier John Horgan said Monday. “Getting vaccinated is the way forward through this pandemic.”

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The B.C. vaccine card has a start date of Sept. 13. On that day, you will need at least one dose of vaccine to enter non-essential indoor events and places. By Oct. 24, entrance will require two doses, and the second dose must have been given at least a week prior, as the vaccine takes time to reach full effectiveness.

Excellent progress has been made with the province’s vaccination program, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. On Monday 74.9 per cent of B.C. residents age 12 and over were fully vaccinated. However, during the weekend another 1,711 people tested positive for COVID-19. The majority of new cases and hospitalizations involve people who are not fully vaccinated.

The vaccine card program is temporary and will be reassessed at the end of January, said Henry.

People will be able to download proof of vaccination to a mobile device. To do so will require entering your name, date of birth and personal health number. There will be options for people without mobile devices, including a call-centre number. Details for downloading haven’t been released yet.

Proof of vaccination will be needed to enter a wide range of places, including indoor and ticketed sporting events, indoor concerts, theatres, indoor and patio dining, nightclubs, casinos, fitness centres and gyms. It will also be required for indoor weddings and conferences.

Robert Bettauer, CEO of Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence, said he’s not surprised by the announcement given the pressure of new COVID cases and he’s confident there’s “a very powerful valid reason” that public health officials are taking this action.

“We’ve trusted our health authority to give us pretty good guidance,” said Bettauer. “That has allowed us to continue to provide services to the community … and so we will continue to follow those guidelines.

“But this one is tricky stuff, because there are people who have good reason why they are not vaccinated and I want to understand how we manage that,” said Bettauer.

Rob Chyzowski, owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole & Diner, said requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination will be “a lot more touchy” than asking for proof of age, but it will be a worthwhile way to ensure confidence amongst customers. “I’m for it but the logistics of policing it will be a challenge,” said Chyzowski. “But the whole world is leaning towards that passport so I think it’s going to become quite commonplace.”

The requirement does not apply to services such as grocery stores, pharmacies and retail stores, or to faith-based groups. Children who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines will be allowed into indoor events.

About 776,000 people eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination have not yet received one, said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce president Bruce Williams said he hopes government will do some outreach through chambers — “it’s a ruling by government but businesses have to manage and handle it.”

Some will say a vaccine passport is not ideal, said Williams, “but it is better than a lockdown.”

Business Council of B.C. CEO and president Greg D’Avignon said businesses asked the government to require vaccination proof because they needed a clear mandate. He was pleased by what he heard Monday. “It appears to be at no cost to consumers or businesses while protecting the health of the economy and keeping people and business working and safe.”

Ian Tostenson, B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association president and CEO, said the industry looks forward to working with the government on the program. “We support the B.C. vaccine card to increase confidence in attending concerts, sporting events, restaurants, bars, gyms, indoor events, etc.,” Tostenson said.

Henry said the risk of acquiring COVID-19 is more than 10 times higher for a person who hasn’t been vaccinated — “a stark reminder to all of us why vaccines matter.” B.C. has a rate of about 28 per 100,000 COVID cases in people who are unvaccinated compared to two per 100,000 in people who are fully vaccinated, said Henry. “What we’re trying to do is be able to allow these discretionary events to continue in a way that is safe for the vast majority of people.”

She said there will not be an exemption for those with medical, religious or other reasons for not being vaccinated, noting these are discretionary, not essential, events. “They will not be able to attend those events through this period of time.

“This is a temporary measure that’s getting us through a risky period where we know that people who are unvaccinated are at greater risk of both contracting and spreading this virus,” said Henry.

There is an effort to synchronize the vaccination card with anything done federally. People visiting from outside of Canada will be required to show the proof of vaccination they used to enter the country plus their passport.

Horgan noted that this will the first time a program like this has been tried.

“There may be bumps along the way but we’re very confident — Minister Dix and his team have been working with Citizen Services throughout the summer to make sure the technologies can be ready to go,” he said.

The vaccine card does not apply to K-12 or post-secondary schools. As well, a mask mandate was not introduced Monday but Henry said that does play a role in some areas where transmission is high “and we’re looking at what that means for us as we move through the fall.”

An announcement on the COVID-19 plan for K-12 and post-secondary institutions is scheduled for today at 9:30 a.m.

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