On August 13, 2021, Transport Canada's Minister, Omar Alghabra, announced that all passengers on commercial flights in Canada will need to prove that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 before being permitted to travel by air. The Treasury Board of Canada also announced the intention of the Government of Canada to require vaccinations of all employees in federally regulated travel sectors. These requirements are scheduled to come into effect as early as the end of September and no later than the end of October 2021.
The details of these new policies have yet to be announced. The Treasury Board has indicated that there may be exceptions to the policies for those individuals who are unable to be vaccinated and mentioned the possibility of accommodation or alternative measures including testing and screening. The Government of Canada has announced that it will engage with stakeholders including air operators in preparation for the implementation of these initiatives. To anticipate what some of the features of these policies may look like, we examine the "vaccine passport" systems currently being implemented by several provinces in Canada.
The first province to announce a "vaccine passport" was Quebec, where a "QR Code" based system called VaxiCode came into effect on September 1, 2021. There is a grace period from September 1, 2021, to September 15, 2021, where the vaccine passport will be in effect but no penalties for non-compliance will be imposed.
Under Quebec's vaccine passport system, persons 13 years or older will need to be fully vaccinated to participate in specific non-essential activities, including dining at restaurants, using gyms, watching movies at the cinema, and playing team sports. The vaccine passport will not be required for shopping at grocery stores and pharmacies or for attending weddings, funerals, private gatherings, and places of worship.
A person will qualify as being fully vaccinated seven days after their second dose of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Covidshield vaccines, seven days after their first dose of the aforementioned vaccines if they had COVID-19 more than 21 days prior, or 14 days after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Quebec has announced that in the rare circumstance where a person is unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons, their doctor can provide a document that will allow that person to qualify for a vaccine passport.
British Columbia became the second province to announce a vaccine passport system. Beginning on September 13, 2021, proof of vaccination with one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will be required in British Columbia for all persons 12 and older in order to attend certain non-essential social and recreation venues and events. These include indoor ticketed sporting events, indoor and patio dining, gyms, and indoor organized events including weddings. By October 24, 2021, a person will only be able to qualify for entry to these venues and events seven days after their second dose of vaccine.
The vaccine passport will primarily be available for use on a smart phone, although a physical alternative in the form of a card will also be made available. The vaccine passport program is intended to be time limited through January 31, 2022, but may be extended past that date. Notably, BC has announced that there will be no exemptions available for people who are unable to receive the vaccine for medical reasons.
It will be interesting to see whether and how Transport Canada crafts any exemptions that will either permit unvaccinated persons to travel or employees in the air-regulated sectors to remain unvaccinated, based on the divergent approaches taken by British Columbia and Quebec. For airlines already saddled with numerous additional obligations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic including checking for negative COVID-19 tests, ensuring compliance with masking requirements, and verifying vaccination status, these policies likely represent yet another burden placed on an already burdened industry.
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