British Columbians will soon need to prove they’ve been vaccinated to enjoy restaurants, movies and concerts, indoor sports and fitness activities and gatherings such as weddings as B.C. attempts to increase vaccination rates and slow a surging fourth COVID wave.
People 12 and older will be required to show proof of at least a single dose by Sept. 13 to enter bars, restaurants, movie theatres, nightclubs, post-secondary residences, casinos and other discretionary indoor settings.
“Getting vaccinated is the way forward and through this pandemic,” Premier John Horgan said today, noting the changes will make vaccinated people more confident while attending these events.
Proof of both doses will be an entry requirement by Oct. 24.
Essential services like health care and religious services and stores are not affected, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, and the orders don’t apply to employees of these establishments.
“These new measures will help reduce transmission and keep our communities safer,” said Henry.
The measures may be introduced earlier in high-transmission areas, particularly in the Interior, she said.
Today’s announcement is a departure from B.C.’s carrot-focused strategy to raising vaccination numbers and an acknowledgement that a stick is needed to encourage the 776,000 eligible British Columbians who are not yet vaccinated.
The 16.8 per cent of eligible people who are unvaccinated or have a single dose account for 87 per cent of COVID-19 cases and 89 per cent of hospitalizations in the last week, according to Monday’s numbers.
The current rate of infection in B.C. is 28 per 100,000 among the unvaccinated, and just two per 100,000 for those with both shots.
Vaccinated people can still transmit the virus and become infected.
But unvaccinated people are 10 times more likely to transmit it to others or to have serious symptoms. They also shed the virus for a longer period of time than vaccinated people.
“Your risk is 10 times higher if you have not been vaccinated,” said Henry. “These numbers are a stark reminder to all of us why vaccines matter.”
Vaccinating as many as possible will protect those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons and children under 12 who are not yet able to get a shot.
Children under 12 are exempt from the restrictions if accompanied by a vaccinated adult, but there are no exceptions for the small percentage of people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or who refuse it on religious grounds, Henry said.
The changes also apply to residences and some extracurricular events on post-secondary campuses, including gyms, pubs and campus club events, Advanced Education Minister Anne Kang tweeted.
After months of concerns from students, faculty and staff calling for mandatory vaccinations and indoor masking on campuses and in school classrooms, the province’s K-to-12 and post-secondary plans are slated to be announced Tuesday.
“For now this is what we need as we continue to operate safely in our communities as we head into this fall,” said Henry. The measures are temporary and will be evaluated monthly with the aim of ending them in January.
Proof of vaccination will be available through a confidential card downloadable to one’s phone, Henry said. Out-of-province visitors will be able to show their proof of vaccine as well, but officials were vague about how these would be authenticated.
And for those who do not own a phone or don't have a fixed address, there will be an unspecified second option.
Health Minister Adrian Dix noted that the vast majority of elderly and unhoused people have been vaccinated through community clinics, and that young people who most often have phones are the target.
Last week, independent expert modelling projected that even with a vaccination rate above 90 per cent, B.C. hospitals will be overwhelmed and daily cases will surpass 1,000 in the next month.
Currently, about 83.2 per cent of eligible people have at least one vaccine dose.
Further public measures are needed now to avert disaster, the expert group argued.
B.C. reported today there had been 1,711 new cases since Friday. Hospitalizations continued to climb, with 133 in hospital and 80 in intensive care.
Sixteen more deaths were recorded over the weekend, including some deaths in the Interior dating back to Aug. 1.
Dix and Henry confirmed that B.C. will not move to Step 4 of its reopening, which had been projected for as early as Sept. 7.
But Henry said further measures or mask mandates, as introduced in the Interior, are not needed elsewhere in the B.C.
“Thankfully we have a powerful and effective tool now that helps us on our journey, and that is vaccination.”