There were many joyful reunions in Manitoba personal-care homes this week, thanks to a small card that provides proof of immunization. The same card could be key to unlocking pandemic restrictions and opening Manitoba to wider economic and social freedoms.
Possession of the COVID-19 immunization card permitted family members to resume full visits with loved ones in care homes beginning Monday. Available in digital and physical versions, the card is available two weeks after a second vaccine dose and provides the person’s name and a scannable QR code.
Premier Brian Pallister has said the card will let Manitobans travel within Canada without having to self-isolate for two weeks after they return. He also said it may eventually permit access to major sporting events and other facilities, such as museums.
An advertising campaign for the Visa credit card once used the the slogan "Everywhere you want to be." It’s tempting to borrow the advertising tag line as a fitting aspiration for the geographical and social opportunities that could someday soon be allowed to holders of the Manitoba immunization card.
After 16 months of pandemic restrictions, most Manitobans will welcome the return of the freedom to be "everywhere you want to be," as long as it’s safe. People will be more likely to to feel safer and resume social and economic activities if they know everyone in the group — whether in the cabin of a plane, or the dining room of a restaurant — has the card as proof of immunization. Doubly dosed, doubly sure of of safety.
The card is such a good idea, it’s surprising some Canadian jurisdictions are slow to catch on. Many provinces offer paper printouts recording vaccination doses, as Manitoba also does through its Shared Health website, but printouts without security measures are easily manipulated and not reliable evidence of full vaccination.
After 16 months of pandemic restrictions, most Manitobans will welcome the return of the freedom to be "everywhere you want to be," as long as it’s safe.
Alberta has said outright it won’t introduce vaccine passports. Other provinces, including Ontario, have said they’re considering provincial immunization cards, but so far Ontario’s efforts are stalled at talk and study. Saskatchewan offers electronic and paper copies of vaccination records, including a wallet card with a record of COVID-19 vaccination.
Federally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will join a growing list of countries issuing vaccination certificates and will open borders to fully vaccinated travellers, but he said that back in April and so far Canada doesn’t have the promised certificate. While Canada is apparently still working on it, at least seven countries within the European Union have already launched their digital vaccine cards.
As far as travelling internationally, a public health agency spokesperson said on Monday federal officials are still determining whether the Manitoba cards will be sufficient to let returning Manitobans skip the mandatory two-week federal quarantine when re-entering Canada.
The risk of unfairly excluding people who can’t access an immunization card has drawn concerns from the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, which cites possible discrimination against people who are unvaccinated because of disability, religion, political belief or poverty. Such concerns are legitimate and should be accommodated if possible, perhaps by studying alternative measures being used by other places that already have vaccine passports.
The Manitoba government obviously decided the greater good outweighs the denial of privileges to non-immunized people. Good for the Pallister government, which is a sentiment not frequently expressed these days. The immunization cards are a welcome win for a province that has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in Canada, and where an alarming 71 per cent of Manitobans say the mishandling of the crisis has decreased their faith in the provincial government, according to a poll conducted for the Winnipeg Free Press.
For Manitobans eager to begin recovering from the pandemic, the immunization card could be just the ticket.