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No medical or religious exemptions for B.C.'s vaccine passport system

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People who can't get vaccinated against COVID-19 for medical reasons won't be exempt from B.C.’s upcoming vaccine passport system, nor will those who choose not to get immunized for religious reasons.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who announced the requirement Monday afternoon, said those individuals will have to miss out on discretionary services and activities, such as dining in restaurants and attending live sporting events, until the proof-of-vaccination requirement is lifted next year.

"This is a temporary measure that's getting us through a risky period where we know people who are unvaccinated are at a greater risk, both of contracting and spreading this virus," Henry said Monday.

"Those rare people who have a medical reason why they can't be immunized … they will not be able to attend those events during this period."

The same goes for people who refuse to get immunized because of a religious conviction, though officials noted the passport system does not apply to worship services.

"We've worked really closely with faith-based groups across the province over this past very long year-and-a-half, and we have in place guidelines that they are using to help support faith-based services coming back," Henry said.

The B.C. government is giving the public a grace period of until Sept. 13 before the system comes into effect. At that point, residents will be expected to have at least one dose of vaccine to take part in things like indoor weddings, conferences and a host of other discretionary activities and events.

By Oct. 24, full immunization will be required. The requirement has a tentative end date of Jan. 31, 2022.

The same rules will apply to out-of-province and international visitors as well. Officials said B.C.'s pending vaccine card system will be compatible with immunization records from other Canadian jurisdictions, including Quebec, which was the first province to announce a vaccine passport requirement.

Henry noted that international travellers already need to provide proof of their vaccination status using the ArriveCAN app.

The only exemption currently planned is for children under the age of 12 who are currently ineligible to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines.

"They will be able to attend sporting events or go to a restaurant if the parents or the adults they're with are fully vaccinated," Henry said.

The system was announced amid an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases in B.C. fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant. Henry said 90 per cent of cases recorded over the past month have involved people who are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

"The science is clear," she said. "When you are vaccinated it means that you are less likely to get infected, if you are infected you shed virus for a shorter period of time, you're less likely to transmit to other people, and you're much less likely to have a severe illness that leads to hospitalization."

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