Canada ‘monitoring evidence’ as global support for vaccine passports grows

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WATCH: Will you need a vaccine passport? – Mar 4, 2021

Canada is keeping a close eye on “the evidence” as new rules for COVID-19-vaccinated people, including vaccine passports, are floated by its international partners.

As other countries charge ahead with new strategies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is reckoning with its own considerations, but that any decision will be based on data.

“We continue monitoring evidence and we continue listening to public health experts to find out what measures are appropriate for those people who are vaccinated and those who are vaccinated by vaccines that are not approved here,” Trudeau said in French at a press conference on Tuesday.

Read more: U.K. to test COVID-19 passports at mass gatherings in coming weeks

In the U.S., rules are gradually loosening for fully vaccinated people.

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As of last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced COVID-19-vaccinated Americans can travel within the U.S. without having to get tested or going into quarantine afterward. Last month, the agency said fully vaccinated people could visit with each other indoors without wearing masks or social distancing.

It also said vaccinated people could visit with unvaccinated people from a single household under similar conditions, as long as the unvaccinated individuals were at low risk for severe illness if infected.

Updates to guidance will continue as more people get the shots and evidence about the protection they provide mounts, the CDC said.

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For Canadians, those freedoms are not quite within reach, according to Trudeau.

“Many people are thinking of what they can do this summer, thinking about trips and family visits, but we are not yet there,” he said. “We’re still in the middle of a very serious third wave.”

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The Canada-U.S. border, which has been closed to non-essential traffic for more than a year, will be an important part of how the country safely reopens, Trudeau said. While the details of how that’s done will be important, it won’t be happening “right away,” he said.

“We continue to work with partners to ensure it’s done the right way,” Trudeau said.

Read more: U.S. CDC says fully vaccinated people can gather indoors

But Canada is quickly falling behind in terms of other travel-related vaccine rules.

Vaccine passports, or immunity passports, are rapidly picking up steam in the European Union, paving the way to reboot some semblance of safe international tourism. Some are expected to be in place as early as this summer.

Experts have warned that international efforts could force Canada’s hand when it comes to whether the government is prepared to provide Canadians with adequate proof of their vaccinations.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said that Canada “needs to be part” of the passport conversations underway around the world. She reiterated that stance on Tuesday.

“Of course we remain committed to having these conversations with our international partners because, however that conversation evolves, we want to make sure Canadians have the right kinds of documentation for future travel,” she said.

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Both Hajdu and Trudeau have expressed concern in the past about how these types of documents could create unfair roadblocks for those who are unable to get vaccinated.

While Canada still intends to have every willing Canadian fully vaccinated by the end of summer, supply of the precious drug is only just beginning to ramp up considerably.

Trudeau acknowledged Canada has passed its milestone for the end of March. The government aimed to deliver six million vaccines to the provinces and territories but has landed at more than 10 million.

“We’re doing well, but there’s a lot more to go,” he said.

Read more: WHO cautions against vaccine passports for international travel

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Despite the climbing vaccination numbers, Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, said the message should be clear: “Do not travel for recreational purposes outside your own locality. Right now that’s very important.”

Tam pointed to the concerning rise in COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country, particularly the rise in variant cases. She acknowledged that the data isn’t yet definitive about how protective currently approved vaccines are against the variants of concern (VOC) identified in Canada so far.

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She said the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom “likely replaced the original virus in some locations” in Canada as the dominant strain already. The P.1 variant first identified in Brazil has skyrocketed in recent days. Tam said it rose from about 460 cases nationally one week ago to about 857 cases reported in Canada on Tuesday. A majority of those cases are found in British Columbia and Ontario, but numbers are growing in Alberta too.

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“Variants of concern are posing new challenges… So now is not the time to travel across the regions,” she said.

“There is a potential for spread in Canada between provinces.”

— with files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Rachel Gilmore

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