Vaccine Passports Coming, Furey Says as Newfoundland and Labrador Reports 5 New Cases

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N.L will be moving forward with a vaccination passport, as per Premier Andrew Furey, as the region announced 5 new reported cases of coronavirus on Tuesday.

All of the new cases are in the Labrador-Grenfell Health area. 4 are contacts of former cases, whereas another is under investigation. One individual is hospitalized because of COVID-19.

There’s an additional 7 new presumptive positive coronavirus cases: 5 in the Labrador-Grenfell Health area and 2 in the Western Health area.

With three new recoveries, there are now 35 active cases of the disease in N.L. A total of 276,955 COVID-19 tests have been done in the territory, a rise of 1,031 since Monday’s briefing.

There are now 8 confirmed cases connected to an emerging cluster in the Labrador-Grenfell area. There’s anywhere from 230 to 250 contacts connected to the group, with many large gatherings under investigation, as per Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health.

As a result of the group, Fitzgerald announced 6 communities on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula – Roddickton-Bide Arm, Croque, Conche, St. Julien’s Englee, and Main Brook — will move into Alert Level 3, which requires citizens to wear face masks in public areas.

Fitzgerald said she ordered those measures because of potential community spread of COVID-19 and a low vaccination rate in the area.

The outbreak is the third cluster currently under investigation by public health. The other 2 are in the Western Health and Eastern Health areas, which are still under investigation.

As per Fitzgerald, about 60% of persons living on the far end of the Northern Peninsula have been vaccinated. Across Newfoundland and Labrador, 76% of the eligible population have been inoculated with two doses, whereas 86% of the eligible population have received at least a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Fitzgerald said cases are being seen across the region in persons who are fully vaccinated. Of 75 positive cases since July 1, 28 those who are fully vaccinated, 12 were partially vaccinated, and 36 were not vaccinated.

She added that there have been 31 breakthrough cases – reported positive cases in persons who are fully vaccinated – since December 16.

“Our goal is to find a way to live with [COVID], and we can do this in two ways,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday. “By increasing our vaccination rate, and two, by practising our tried and true public health measures.”

Vaccine passport launching in coming weeks

Furey said N.L will take a similar move to the vaccination passport as Quebec, which recently introduced its passport program via a mobile app.

The region model was selected because of its initial success, as per Furey, who said the province did not want to “recreate the wheel” when it came to operating a passport.

“This will be a little bit different in that we will be using this as a tool in a toolbox,” Furey said. “Quebec has a very different epidemiological status than we do … so we wanted to make sure that we have a robust toolbox enabling us to apply different tools based on the science.”

Furey said his administration will introduce the passport within 30 days. He said it will use a QR code to show vaccination status, meaning it can be printed and will not require an Internet connection to function.

Vaccination passports are being utilized across Canada to ensure persons entering high-risk areas are vaccinated, as well as serving as an entry requirement at some sporting events and concerts.

The announcement arrives on the heels of the George Street Festival in downtown St. John’s, which critics targeted for allowing massive crowds of persons to gather without masks or physical distancing.

Despite backlash from the community and widespread sharing of pictures and videos on social media, Health Minister John Haggie said his department has not received a formal complaint regarding the event mishandling COVID-19 protocols.

“We have a complaints-driven process. A posting on Facebook doesn’t constitute one,” Haggie said.

“The plan on paper was vetted by public health … and they were under instructions to follow it. We have as yet in my department not had any formal complaints or allegations that this was not the case.”

As part of the vaccination passport announcement, Haggie said N.L residents vaccinated outside the region will soon be able to receive vaccination documentation via an online portal that will roll out on Thursday.

No current changes to masking in schools

Monday’s report from the Health Department, which announced 15 new confirmed cases – also called for a delayed opening of 3 schools in the Roddickton-Bide Arm area to allow time for contact tracing. The schools are H.G. Fillier Academy in Englee, Cloud River Academy, and Mary Simms All Grade in Main Brook.

As other schools in the region prepare to reopen, Fitzgerald said public health isn’t ready to reintroduce compulsory masks in schools, but is prepared to change its position.

“Thankfully, the majority of students in our province will return to a low-risk environment,” she said.

Fitzgerald said 70% of the eligible population aged 12 to 19 are fully vaccinated, whereas 84% of that age group have received at least a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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