Nova Scotia's proof-of-vaccination policy kicks off Monday. It starts an indefinite period during which access to most non-essential services will be off limits to anyone eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 who opts against it.
Staff at restaurants, bars, gyms, casinos, museums and a long list of other venues will have to ask visitors to show they're fully vaccinated, and show a valid ID that matches their vaccine documents.
Hockey fans in Sydney and Halifax got an early taste of the system this weekend at Centre 200 and the Scotiabank Centre, respectively, where attendees were asked at the door for proof of vaccination along with their tickets.
Paul MacDonald, the general manager of Centre 200, said he brought in a few extra security staff to help with vaccine screening, and opened doors 30 minutes earlier than usual before Friday night's home opener for the Cape Breton Eagles.
"Overall, it went extremely well," said MacDonald. "Everyone was receptive, co-operative, and it went real smooth."
He said he expects the process will get easier later this month when the province is expected to launch an app for businesses and organizations to scan QR codes that vaccinated individuals can now download.
In pre-pandemic years, Cape Breton's home openers would typically bring in 3,500 to 4,000 spectators, MacDonald said. This weekend — which marked the first time the venue was allowed to operate at full capacity since the start of the pandemic — about 2,600 seats were filled.
MacDonald said he expects numbers to rise as the season progresses, and people get more comfortable with the return to full capacity.
"I think some people are still nervous getting out in large crowds, even though all the folks have to be vaccinated."
Scotiabank Centre also adopted the proof-of-vaccination policy slightly ahead of the province's schedule, starting with the Halifax Mooseheads home opener on Saturday night. It was a plan the team and venue owners announced more than a month ago, pre-empting the province's policy.
"The main reason we did that is for our fans. We heard loud and clear that that was something they wanted," said Mooseheads president Brian Urquhart.
Anyone who bought a ticket ahead of game day received an email explaining the vaccine requirement, and on Saturday night fans were met with signs leading into the arena showing the type of documents that would be accepted.
The Halifax Wanderers also started requiring fans to show proof of vaccination when the soccer club's season began in mid-September.
N.S. poised to achieve 'maximum impact' of vaccine policy
The official start of the proof-of-vaccination policy coincides with the start of Phase 5 of Nova Scotia's reopening plan. Phase 5 means gathering limits are being dropped for any event hosted by a business or organization. Informal social gatherings are capped at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. Masks still have to be worn in most public places.
Following a summer with close to zero active cases, Nova Scotia's COVID-19 numbers have bumped up in the past month, but infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett said Nova Scotia is still in an enviable position compared to other parts of Canada where health-care systems are being pushed to the brink.
Barrett said with a relatively low number of reported infections in most parts of the province, Nova Scotia is poised to achieve the maximum benefit of a proof-of-vaccination system.
"If we combine low likelihood that people have virus along with proof of vaccination ... then we've got a really good shot of this particular type of approach having maximum impact on reducing both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases in our communities," she said.
On Sunday, about 300 people of all ages gathered on Citadel Hill to protest the proof-of-vaccination policy. The event did not follow public health rules around gathering limits.
A large blue banner spelling "freedom" was hung on the stairs of the Old Town Clock, and people carried signs saying "vaccine passports = slavery" and "coercion is not consent."
As of Friday, 75 per cent of Nova Scotians had received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, as Health Canada has not approved any COVID-19 vaccines for use in that age group.
Children under 12 are exempt from the proof-of-vaccination policy and those turning 12 this year will have a three-month grace period following their birthday to get the shots.
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