Alberta to offer vaccine confirmation cards, but province says passports a no go

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EDMONTON — Albertans will be able to print off a card to show they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but provincewide rules requiring proof of vaccination to enter places such as restaurants or sports events remain off the table.

"Alberta will not be following other provinces in implementing a vaccine passport program,” Justin Brattinga, spokesman for the Jobs, Economy and Innovation Ministry said Thursday in a statement.

"If an Albertan has received their two doses, they should be confident that the risks of serious health effects are exceedingly small," he said.

Lisa Glover with Alberta Health said residents will soon be able to print off their vaccination card.

"We are working on this functionality right now, however, we do not (have) a timeline on when this feature will be ready," said Glover.

In the meantime, residents can use the paper confirmation they received when they got their shots, she said. Glover urged Albertans to review the vaccination rules of the places they plan to visit.

The recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the province and elsewhere across Canada has prompted some jurisdictions to take more proactive measures on vaccine passports.

Quebec is to launch its program next week. Confirmation is to be downloaded digitally.

As of Wednesday, only those 13 and up with the vaccine passport will be able to go to non-essential venues where COVID-19 transmission could be high. The spots will include festivals, performance halls, sports arenas, casinos, cinemas, fitness centres, bars and restaurants. There will be no restricted access to essential services, such as schools.

Starting Sept. 13 in British Columbia, people carrying a "B.C. Vaccine Card" will be allowed to enter high-transmission, non-essential venues. Proof of a single dose will be required initially and full vaccination will be needed by Oct. 24.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has dismissed bringing in vaccine passports. In July, he questioned whether they would meet personal privacy rules.

His United Conservative government has been criticized of late for moving too quickly to declare the pandemic over and for lifting all but a handful of public health restrictions July 1.

Alberta now has a patchwork of mask and vaccine mandates. Rules vary among schools, universities, businesses and sports teams.

Alberta's case numbers have been shooting up, with 1,112 reported Thursday -- the highest since mid-May.

Active cases, hospitalizations and patients in intensive care are at about one-third of what they were at the height of the last wave, when they threatened to swamp hospitals.

Even with smaller numbers, hospitals are dealing with staff fatigue and shortages, which have led to cancelled surgeries and bed closures.

Alberta Health spokesman Steve Buick said the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, continues to provide daily updates.

"She and Alberta Health are monitoring the trends closely in Alberta and other jurisdictions and will bring forward any new advice to government if and as they see fit."

Kenney has stressed voluntary vaccinations as the way out of the pandemic. Lottery and other prize draws have been created as incentives to Albertans to get their shots.

About 77 per cent of eligible Albertans (those over age 12) have received at least one dose, while 69 per cent are fully vaccinated.

David Shephard, health critic for the Opposition NDP, said Alberta needs a revised plan to deal with rising case numbers. He suggested Kenney is rejecting new measures to appease party faithful and caucus members in rural strongholds that oppose health restrictions.

"It appears that their plan is to do nothing," said Shepherd.

"Premier Kenney and (Health) Minister (Tyler) Shandro are nowhere to be seen. I think they are afraid of their own far-right base, their own MLAs."

Kenney has been criticized by Shepherd and others for staying out of the public eye and being on vacation while COVID-19 infections grow.

Jerrica Goodwin, Kenney's spokeswoman, said he has been on the job even while away.

"He has participated in numerous briefings on important subjects — including on COVID-19 — while 'on holidays,'" she said in a statement.

"The premier is taking a two-week holiday. That ends next week."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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