Saint Johners respond to new vaccine policy with support, concerns

·3 min read

Sisters Leylan and Bencevin Ali can't hide their enthusiasm for the new vaccine policy announced by the provincial government Wednesday, requiring proof of vaccination to enter bars, gyms, restaurants, entertainment venues and recreation centres.

"It’s really good," said Bencevin, a 22-year-old caregiver. "I think it’s smart."

Both sisters, who came to Canada in 2016 with their family as refugees of the civil war in Syria, described feeling a new sense of freedom after receiving both doses of their vaccines. They recalled feeling unsafe and worried before COVID-19 jabs were made widely available in the province.

And now, with the fourth wave of the coronavirus rearing its ugly head in New Brunswick, they said ensuring proof of vaccination will help keep people safe.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Leylan, who is 18 and works in the restaurant industry. "In my opinion, it will be really safe for everybody, especially older people and (those with) cancer, or (those who) are sick.”

On Wednesday, the provincial government announced that starting Sept. 21 at 11:59 p.m., New Brunswickers will be required to show proof of vaccination when accessing certain events, services and businesses. As well, anyone entering the province must preregister their travel.

The announcement came as New Brunswick recorded 63 new cases on Sept. 15, the largest single-day increase since the beginning of the pandemic.

“As we are in the fourth wave of the pandemic, it is imperative that we do what is needed to protect our residents while living with the reality that the virus is still with us,” Premier Blaine Higgs was quoted as saying, in a release.

“These changes are necessary to ensure that our province is able to remain in Green and avoid lockdowns, which we know are detrimental to businesses and people’s mental health. We also need to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system. The vaccine is an effective tool that can help us combat this virus, but more people must get vaccinated to provide us all with better protection.”

The new policy requires individuals who are 12 and older to show both proof of vaccination and government-issued identification when entering a range of locations, from restaurants, pubs, movie theatres and nightclubs to gyms, indoor pools and indoor recreation facilities.

Those living or working in assisted living facilities, shelters, community kitchens and addiction and mental health treatment facilities must also either be fully vaccinated or wear a mask and be tested regularly for the virus. As well, staff at nursing homes and adult residential facilities will be required to either be fully vaccinated or wear a mask and be tested regularly.

But Darlene Jones, a co-ordinator with the Saint John Community Loan Fund, said the policy discriminates against a segment of the population that might not have ID, including a Medicare card. She said those without a Medicare card haven't received their jab because they didn't think they could.

While Jones said she understands the need for the new policy, not being permitted in certain public places will be hard for the organization's clients.

"Most of them, especially if they are homeless, even using the basic washroom or going to a mental health clinic or even to come to services here, they will not be allowed in," she said. "They certainly could be denied services that they desperately need, just because they are not vaccinated."

Tamara Kelly, executive director of One Change Inc., said the charity is working to overcome the challenges presented by the new vaccine policy. She said the most vulnerable people, such as individuals living on their own who have health or mental health issues, will be impacted by this new policy.

"There will be some people who will be more affected than others," she said. "It would be those living on their own in the community and any community that use organizations for socializing and maintaining their mental health."

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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