HALIFAX — Nova Scotia on Wednesday became the latest province to announce what officials are calling a "proof of vaccination policy" to allow residents to participate in non-essential activities.
The move comes after chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang last month expressed concerns about enacting such a vaccination requirement. At the time, Strang said the province wasn't looking to impose a vaccine passport due to legalities, adding that individual businesses or organizations could decide to employ them if they wished.
Now, provincial officials have announced that as of Oct. 4, people 12 and older will have to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 to go to restaurants, gyms, theatres, concerts and sporting events. Strang said he understands some are concerned about getting the vaccine.
"We are not requiring anyone to be vaccinated. You will remain having a choice," he told reporters. "But we are still in the midst of a global pandemic that has taken countless lives, and an individual's right to choose has to be balanced with our collective responsibility to keep one another safe."
Though such measures are commonly known as vaccine passports, Premier Tim Houston said the province was going with the more specific "proof of vaccination" term.
"Words matter. This is a policy, a policy designed to keep people safe," he said.
Health officials also announced the province will be ready to move into the final phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan next Wednesday, which involves removing most of the public health measures that have been in place since the onset of the pandemic.
That means indoor masking mandates, gathering limits and physical distancing rules are set to be lifted as the vaccination rates edge toward 75 per cent, Strang said, though officials are encouraging residents to voluntarily continue their mask use. He said he is confident the province can reach the 75 per cent vaccination threshold by next Wednesday.
"The fourth wave is gaining steam and we can expect to see ongoing COVID activity during the fall," Strang said, "however I truly believe Nova Scotia is ready. We have shown we can do what needs to be done in the past, and our vaccination rates are among in the highest in the world."
To date, about 72 per cent of Nova Scotians are fully vaccinated, according to the most recent provincial data.
Fully vaccinated residents will no longer have to isolate, unless directed by Public Health, if they are found to be a close contact of a COVID-19 case, he added.
Border measures will remain in place, however. Starting Thursday, domestic travellers who aren't fully vaccinated will need to isolate for at least seven days and provide two negative tests, while international travellers will no longer have to fill out the Nova Scotia Safe Check-In form as federal monitoring has improved.
Masks will continue to be worn in schools until Sept. 20.
Nova Scotia health officials reported 14 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 11 more recoveries from the disease. Nova Scotia has 61 active reported infections and one person in hospital with the disease.
Strang said there continues to be no sign of community spread of COVID-19 in the province.
Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin released a statement Wednesday saying he was pleased Houston's government was following the lead set by the Liberals. During the recent election campaign won by the Progressive Conservatives, Rankin committed to introducing a vaccine passport if re-elected.
"This is what the Nova Scotia Liberal party staunchly advocated for to keep Nova Scotians safe when COVID-19 cases started to rise in other parts of the country, and to keep businesses open in the wake of a fourth wave," Rankin said Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2021.
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press