Rob Shaw: A new passport system to enter non-essential events and services is the province’s way of trying to nudge along COVID-19 vaccine holdouts.
BC’s sweeping new rules on mandatory vaccines to enter restaurants, movies and sporting events makes one thing perfectly clear: We aren’t going back to normal from COVID-19 any time soon.
It’s clear now the province won’t meet its target to transition to stage four of its reopening plan on Sept. 7, when we were supposed to shed the last of our restrictions and return to life-as-usual from the pandemic.
Instead, Premier John Horgan and Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Monday new rules that will forbid people from entering restaurants, gyms, movie theatres, casinos, sporting events, and other non-essential businesses unless they are vaccinated.
Starting Sept. 13, people will be required to have had at least one dose of vaccine to access those types of establishments. By Oct. 24, only those with two shots will be allowed inside.
“This is a temporary measure that is 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.
It doesn’t apply to essential services, such as grocery stores, schools, and hospitals.
The hope is that the new rules will curb rising daily case counts – which this past weekend reached the highest single-day levels seen since May – as well as hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions.
All of those markers have been trending in the wrong direction for weeks, as BC struggles through a fourth wave, putting the province further and further away from meeting its goals on its re-opening plan.
The new requirements come with a Jan. 31 deadline, leaving the distinct impression we’ll be spending this fall grappling with vaccine passports and other restrictions, rather than throwing open the doors to living alongside COVID-19 like any other virus, as public health experts had once hoped.
All of this is disappointing and frustrating, especially for people who rushed out to get vaccinated and who’ve been diligently following the rules (including wearing masks when they didn’t have to) the past few months.
Clearly, Horgan has heard that too. The new vaccine rules are in part designed to minimize the anger and blowback from British Columbians frustrated the government has stalled out on convincing some to get the jab, and wondering why it can’t do more.
“British Columbians in the majority are very much supportive of this initiative,” Horgan said of the new rules.
“And quite frankly, I’ve heard more than anything else, what is keeping you back? What is holding you up? Why are we not doing this right now?”
The new vaccine passport rules also add a much-needed dose of clarity to what has become a confusing world of contradictory requirements and expectations.
Some businesses, sports teams, stadium owners, and organizers have announced people must be vaccinated to attend their events. But not all.
The new vaccine passport rules wipe away the uncertainty and replace it with one easy-to-understand set of rules on what you can and can’t do if you’re unvaccinated.
In short, the whole idea makes a lot of sense.
Still, it’s easy to see at least a few bumps on the road ahead, based on the initial details.
There won’t be exemptions for people who can’t get vaccinated due to medical complications, or refuse to get vaccinated for religious reasons – those folks will simply not be able to visit restaurants and other types of businesses for months. Expect that to spark at least some sort of civil liberties legal challenge.
There’s also an odd loophole in the plan that means it only applies to customers visiting these non-essential businesses, and not the employees who work there. Dr. Henry said whether employees get vaccinated is a labour relations issue between employers and employees.
So that means even though you’ll need to be vaccinated to enter a restaurant, the person making your food and the server delivering it to you won’t necessarily have to be. That’s odd, and could be hard to justify in the long term.
The roll-out won’t be perfect, as Horgan himself acknowledged at the launch.
“British Columbians need to know that this is the first time anything like this has ever been tried,” he said. “There may be bumps along the way.”
But it’s a good step in the right direction. Even as our planned return to normal continues to slip further and further away.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.
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