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Proof of vaccine to be required for some non-essential businesses in B.C., officials announce

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Hoping to curb the fourth COVID-19 wave in B.C., proof of vaccination status will be required for some non-essential businesses starting next month, health officials announced Monday.

Premier John Horgan, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix made the announcement at a joint news conference.

The vaccine certificates – known as the B.C. vaccine card – will be required at restaurants, fitness centres, casinos, organized indoor events like conferences and weddings, movie theatres, ticketed sporting events and indoor concerts, officials said.

One dose of vaccine will be required to enter those businesses and events as of Sept. 13 and full vaccination will be required by Oct. 24.

"Getting vaccinated is the way forward through the pandemic," Horgan said during the news conference. "There is no reason why those who are anxious to participate in the social and economic life of our community can't take that next step and get that safe, effective vaccine."

The measures introduced Monday are for people attending the events or business. Henry said it's "up to each business " to determine whether employees must be vaccinated.

The rules don't apply to elementary and secondary schools or after-school programs. However they will apply, as relevant, to post-secondary campuses and may include some student housing. More details on that plan will be released Tuesday.

Henry said Monday vaccines have "changed the way" B.C. can deal with pandemic, but there are still waves of cases, particularly in those who are unvaccinated.

B.C.'s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases reached as low as 35 per day at the beginning of July, but has since climbed back up to 555. Hospitalizations have also been increasing steadily in recent weeks.

"Over the past month, up until last week, people who have not been fully vaccinated account for almost 90 per cent of all of our cases and over 93 per cent of the hospitalizations we've had in this past month," Henry said, adding that the risk of getting COVID-19 is 10 times higher for those who aren't vaccinated.

"These numbers are a stark reminder to all of us why vaccines matter."

NEW PROGRAM FOR B.C.

In announcing the vaccine card, Horgan warned there "may be bumps along the way" as this is the first time B.C. has implemented a program like this.

"British Columbians need to know this is the first time anything like this has ever been tried," he said.

Henry said putting enforcement in the hands of businesses is similar to how the province asks liquor servers to ask for ID before serving alcohol. There will be support, however, for businesses managing the new requirement, Henry said.

"We're making it as simple as we possibly can to have a confidential way of determining people's immunization status," she said.

"There may be a small group of people who are protesting against this, as they have for other measures, along the way but as it is a provincial health officer order we do have the ability to support businesses with bylaw officers, with environmental health officers."

The card will be available to download on phones and details on how to do so will be released well before Sept. 13, officials said. A secure option will also be provided for those who can't access their proof of vaccination online through a call-in centre. Individuals will need to show their proof of vaccination alongside valid government photo ID.

The measures will remain in place until Jan. 31, 2022, but may be extended.

Henry said the short answer to whether there will be exemptions is "no."

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

"If there are the rare people who have a medical reason why they can't be immunized, these are discretionary events that we are talking about so they will not be able to attend those events through this period of time of high risk."

A negative COVID-19 test also won't exempt a person from the public health order.

Exemptions aren't available for religious reasons but the rules don't apply to places of worship.

Children under 12, who currently aren't eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in B.C., are exempt from the rules as long as they're with an adult who is fully vaccinated.

People travelling from another province or country will be able to share their proof of vaccine. 

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