By RYAN KING and JAYMIE WHITE
WEST COAST – On Sept. 28, Premier Andrew Furey, Minister of Health and Community Services John Haggie, Sarah Stoodley, Minister of Digital Government and Service NL, and Dr. Rosann Seviour, Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health held a meeting to discuss the province’s vaccine passport.
“There are a lot of myths out there, a lot of anxieties, but I can tell you, as a panel – and there is significant medical training here on this panel – we still take advice from experts. This is an incredibly safe vaccine that will enable us to get back to a more normal way of life,” said Furey.
Furey said there will be no ‘partially vaccinated’ included on the passport – a person is either vaccinated or unvaccinated.
“It will be used and mandatory for all non-essential activities throughout our province,” said Furey. “As a government, we feel it is our responsibility to protect the people that we serve, and we are moving in discussions and consultations with the unions throughout this province to ensure that we will, hopefully within the next week or so, arrive at an area where we will mandate vaccines for all public employees of the province.”
Last Thursday, Oct. 7, the province outlined the passport in greater detail before it launched the next day. Premier Furey explained that the passport will involve two apps that will be available for free on the Google Play and Apple app stores. The passport will allow residents to access certain businesses or venues for non-essential and recreational activities.
Additionally, there will be a two-week grace period starting with the launch on Friday, Oct. 8, to allow residents and businesses to download the apps and to get their vaccine passports set up. After this grace period the vaccine passport will be mandatory. Furey noted that those without smartphones can request a paper copy of their vaccine passport, which businesses and organizations with the vax verifier app can then scan.
The vaccine passport will be needed for non-essential services, like community centres, fitness facilities, indoor sports, indoor entertainment, bars, restaurants, cinemas, bingo halls, personal service establishments, auto dealerships, and senior homes. They will not be required for essential services such as schools, retail stores, health care facilities, social services, transportation, hotels, government services, and financial institutions.
The NLVaxPass app will be for residents to upload their vaccine status, and the NLVaxVerify app will be for businesses and organizations to check vaccine status.
Residents will be able to follow the instructions in the app to obtain their proof of vaccination record QR code, or they can go to the provincial COVID-19 Vaccine Portal, at http://www.gov.nl.ca/covid-19/vaccine/online-vaccination-records/, or MyGovNL, at login.my.gov.nl.ca/login to find instructions on obtaining their vaccine information. Those without access to these websites can call 1-833-951-3859.
Stoodley also advised residents to not post these QR codes on social media or otherwise share them, and to protect them like an MCP card. Residents 19 years and older will also need to show ID along with the passport to verify their identity, which will mean a government issued photo ID. Additionally, Stoodley noted that multiple users can be stored on one phone, like a family. However children 12 to 18 will also have to show ID, which can be in the form of a birth certificate, MCP card, or other identification that includes their name and birth date.
Stoodley added that information and help is available for those having trouble with the new system, including at local libraries.
“If you’re still thinking this doesn’t make any sense, and you have no idea what we’re talking about, our friends at the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries are ready to assist across the province. So we’re really thankful for the extra work and training that we’ve put in with them. And as of tomorrow morning, there will also be a 1-800 number for residents, as well as a 1-800 number for businesses to call, and if you don’t have any means of downloading and printing a copy of your record, you call this number and we will mail you a printed copy,” said Stoodley.
As preparations are made for the vaccine passport, a number of concerns have been raised by business owners and operators, one of which is the effect that a vaccination passport will have on tourism and economics around the province. Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose said he supports the decision to issue vaccination passports.
“We’re a healthcare town. We’re on an island that did very well with the pandemic, and we’re an airport town too, for international flights that come in. So to me, I support the vaccine passport and I do applaud the government on making a move because it creates an ease to travel, it creates reassurances, and it really protects the populous,” said Rose. “It’s really no different than if I were to take a flight to Arizona. I’m going to need a passport to do it. So if you need to get on a flight to go to another province and you need proof of vaccination to not have to isolate? It’s just a measure of our society and the health and welfare of our citizens.”
The passport will also affect access to municipal facilities for non-essential activities, like recreational activities at the Bruce II. Leon MacIsaac, Town Manager of Channel-Port aux Basques, shared that the town is still waiting on action by the provincial government.
“Right now, we’re still waiting on any provincial action. No decision will be made until the province takes action on their part. We follow all provincial guidelines, so we would not have any comment or anything on it until that point happens by the province,” said MacIsaac.
Much the same is true of the Grand Bay Mall. Richard Anderson, supervisor at the Grand Bay Mall, explained that they are waiting on the response of their head office before commenting on how the vaccine passport will work at the mall.
“I wouldn’t know right yet. See, all of that will come from our head office. I can’t say yes, or I can’t say no, right? I don’t know for sure,” said Anderson.
Another local business owner, who wished to remain anonymous, noted that while they approve of the passport, they wondered if the passport could serve other functions as well, such as letting business owners know if those with criminal records are entering their business.
“Honestly, I think it’s okay, but sometimes I feel that if you have to have the passport to get in for the vaccinations, I think there are some examples like people with criminal records, maybe they should have something on their passport, as well. If someone has a criminal record, I think if they have a passport for vaccination, and I’m going to use this as an example, maybe a pedophile, they should have something on record to show, because they’re coming into a public place where there’s children, and other places like that. So I think they should be required to have a passport as well as someone with the COVID.”
Premier Furey explained that these new measures are not just to protect yourself, but the community and province at large.
“There is no life without COVID-19, there’s no future without us dealing with it. Including, by the way, some people who will occasionally get sick. The strategy can’t be elimination. It has to be mitigation. Once fully vaccinated, your NLVaxPass is your proof of protection, not just for yourselves, but for others as well. We’re all in this together, as we have been from day one. So, please utilize this tool to allow us to continue a new life,” said Furey.