Quarantine-free travel within Canada and the chance to visit a loved one in hospital are the first pandemic privileges extended to fully vaccinated Manitobans, as the province begins issuing its own COVID-19 immunity certificates.

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Quarantine-free travel within Canada and the chance to visit a loved one in hospital are the first pandemic privileges extended to fully vaccinated Manitobans, as the province begins issuing its own COVID-19 immunity certificates.

Two weeks after receiving a second dose of vaccine, Manitobans can apply for an immunization card — digital or hard copy — that will allow them to travel within Canada without having to self-isolate upon return to Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday.

Manitobans carrying the immunity certificate will also be able to visit fully vaccinated family and friends in personal care homes or in hospital.

"We hope this is a temporary measure. Of course, as we get to the point where everybody is vaccinated, we don't need to worry so much about this, but in the interim period, this is an important additional thing that will benefit you," Pallister said during a news conference.

Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday Manitobans will be able to apply for a digital or physical immunization card to prove they are fully vaccinated. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday Manitobans will be able to apply for a digital or physical immunization card to prove they are fully vaccinated. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The premier said additional privileges for being fully vaccinated will be announced in the weeks to come, based on public health advice.

As of Tuesday, 151,561 Manitobans had been fully vaccinated; the province estimates it will take until July 31 to fully vaccinate 70 per cent of the population.

"The sooner we can get this card in the hands of as many Manitobans as possible, the better," Pallister said. "The ramifications of that could be many."

Asked whether restrictions might also apply differently to partially vaccinated Manitobans — particularly as other Canadian provinces with immunization rates comparable to Manitoba roll back restrictions — Pallister said Manitoba continues to be the hot spot for COVID-19 in Canada and variants of concern pose new threats.

Showing proof

Manitoba is one of the first Canadian jurisdictions to issue a secure immunization certificate that can be presented as proof of COVID-19 vaccination and verified digitally by a third party.

The provincial government will issue a unique QR code to fully vaccinated Manitobans that can be stored on a mobile device or printed on a wallet-sized card (which the province will mail out, if requested).

Manitoba is one of the first Canadian jurisdictions to issue a secure immunization certificate that can be presented as proof of COVID-19 vaccination and verified digitally by a third party. 

The provincial government will issue a unique QR code to fully vaccinated Manitobans that can be stored on a mobile device or printed on a wallet-sized card (which the province will mail out, if requested).

Applications must be made at immunizationcard.manitoba.ca or by calling 1-800-392-1207.

To be eligible to receive an immunization card, residents must have a Manitoba health card; have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine; and wait 14 days after getting the second dose.

In order to make sure the immunization certificate is legitimate, third parties will be able to download an application that will read the QR code and confirm the identity of the person and immunization status.

A spokesperson for the province said health facilities would be equipped with means to verify immunization status in the coming weeks; visitation policies for fully vaccinated people will be implemented on a facility-by-facility basis.

As of Tuesday, the public health order requiring returning travellers to self-isolate for a 14-day period had not yet been changed to reflect immunization status.

Children under 12 will be exempt from isolation requirements, if guardians and travel companions are also fully vaccinated, according to the province.

However, Manitobans travelling out of province must continue to follow the local public health orders of their destination, which may restrict travel into the jurisdiction regardless of immunization status.

Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba has had discussions with other provinces on the use and recognition of immunity certificates as more Canadians get vaccinated.

"We're going to see gradual uptake on vaccines. The faster that we can get our folks to do that, the better for our economy, our social life, for our health-care system," the premier said.

"It's that that we have to focus on: following the public health orders, which are necessary for us to protect one another, and at the same time recognizing the awful nature of the variants."

Pallister said government will release its pandemic recovery plan this week, which will be tied to vaccine uptake. Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin will propose changes to current public health orders Wednesday.

In the absence of a clear pandemic recovery plan that involves all Manitobans, and outlines rules for people who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, competing arguments on the use of immunization certificates are amplified, University of Manitoba ethicist Arthur Schafer said.

Manitoba is one of the last provinces to publish its pandemic recovery plan.

The Excelsior Pass app in New York is a digital pass people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. (NY Governor's Press Office via The Associated Press files)

The Excelsior Pass app in New York is a digital pass people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. (NY Governor's Press Office via The Associated Press files)

"Either we’re less competent than the other provinces, which is plausible, or we’ve decided not to share that information, or some combination of the two," Schafer said. "We should know what the government’s short-range, medium-range and long-range plans are as more people become vaccinated and as infection rates drop."

Schafer said some may argue it is unfair to have different rules for fully vaccinated people, as many have not yet had the opportunity to get a second dose. On the other hand, by waiting, many people will be deprived of economic and social opportunities.

Overall, immunity certificates are legitimate policy tools, so long as access to vaccination is equitable, he said.

"It provides protection for people, protection for the health-care system, and if it provides an additional incentive for those who are vaccine hesitant to make up their minds… I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing," said Schafer, who also served as an expert adviser to the federal government on vaccine passports earlier this spring.

However, the government should also offer options for people who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons, such as providing proof of a negative COVID-19 test, if vaccination status is the cost of admission for services, he noted.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government must ensure everyone in Manitoba has easy access to COVID-19 vaccines and immunization cards, and there are accommodations for those who cannot be immunized.

"These steps are necessary to ensure that this card and this program could be rolled out in a way that doesn’t discriminate against people," Kinew said.

"The government really has to go above and beyond for some folks in our society to ensure that they can as easily access this card as someone else."

— with files from Katie May

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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