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Newfoundland and Labrador pulls a U-turn on mandatory vaccines


By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THE TELEGRAM

As he promised the province will roll out its mandatory vaccine passport system next week, Premier Andrew Furey made another U-turn Tuesday in announcing the province will soon be requiring all provincial government workers to be vaccinated.

It’s a move Newfoundland and Labrador has resisted, even after the federal government and other provinces have taken the leap.

“As a government, we feel it is our responsibility to protect the people that we serve, and we are moving in discussions and consultations with the unions throughout this province to — hopefully within the next week or so — arrive at an area where we will mandate vaccines for all public employees of the province,” Furey told reporters at a news briefing in St. John’s.

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The premier said the change of plans is primarily driven by the more transmissible nature of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.

“It’s not a decision that any of us wanted to make, but as we’ve seen the delta pushing the percentage of the population required to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity … we need to make sure that we’re using every tool available to us to achieve the highest vaccination rate possible,” he said.

Asked how unions are responding, Furey replied, “The general feeling was very receptive.”

Tuesday’s briefing came with other stepped up health measures, including a tightening of travel restrictions, and included a short talk by Digital Government Minister Sarah Stoodley about how vaccine passports will work.

Stoodley confirmed the system being used to allow entry to non-essential public events and businesses will incorporate QR codes, which the user can have on their smart device or printed out. The code is scanned at entry, and the scanner will indicate the person’s name and whether or not they are fully vaccinated.

Exemptions will be available for those who can’t get vaccinated for legitimate reasons, and those codes will indicate the person is good to go.

“It’s important that when you get this, you guard it as you would your MCP number, for example,” Stoodley said. “I wouldn’t post a picture of my QR Code on social media or anything.”

The customer will also be required to provide ID to ensure the name on the status matches up.

No other health information will be disclosed.

The government is consulting with business leaders to explain the process, but Furey admitted some details are not yet worked out. It’s not clear yet exactly what businesses will be required to use it, and there no penalties outlined yet for violations.

Stoodly said she’s not quite sure when the various app stores will have the app available for download by those who’ll be scanning the codes, so the launch date is still up in the air.

Furey was defensive when asked why some of the logistics seem to be so last minute.

“Will there be issues? Of course there’s going to be issues,” he said. “We’re not standing up here saying this is going to be absolutely perfect.”

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