Don Martin: Travelling back to normal is going to require vaccine certification
OTTAWA -- Coming soon to an airport departure lounge near you:
Boarding pass? Check.
Photo ID? Check.
COVID-19 vaccination certificate? Whaaat?
With injections ramping up quickly, the federal government should be turning its attention to the fall of 2021 when vaccinated Canadians will be salivating to re-enter global travel and large-crowd hospitality venues.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains far from clear on what his government is doing to meet the demand for international COVID-19 vaccine certification.
And, whether he likes it or not, this hot potato won’t toss out of the federal government’s hands.
If certification becomes mandatory to enter sports stadiums, entertainment arenas or restaurants, that will be up to the owners.
Requiring one for workers in meatpacking plants or on assembly lines will be up to their employers.
Compulsory vaccination for health care workers and other public service employees is up to the provinces.
But negotiating, designing and implementing some sort of vaccination proof for travel outside Canada is a sole federal responsibility.
And this big job seems to be on the fringes of cabinet decision-making.
Trudeau’s gone from declaring certification to be an idea ‘fraught with challenges’ to one the government is pondering.
Public Safely Minister Bill Blair nixed the notion of using land border crossings for a pilot project, somehow believing that a limited reopening to vaccinated arrivals isn’t any better than a complete closure to non-Canadian travellers.
Given that international partners will be required to create a certificate for Canadians leaving the country or foreigners coming to Canada, one might think the minister of foreign affairs would be engaged. So far, crickets from Marc Garneau.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu seems to understand the need for Canada to be a player in making an international certification happen, but shies away from any firm commitment beyond it being a ‘live’ issue.
This great hesitancy suggests Canada will be a distant follower, not a leader, in promoting the concept of vaccine passports.
We will end up playing catch-up to a world getting ready to embrace vaccine verification over trust in forehead temperature readings and three-day-old test results.
Of course, there are secondary concerns and considerations before mandated certification can be implemented.
Until vaccination is definitively proven to prevent transmission of the virus or the general population has achieved herd immunity, safe vaccinated travel can only resume in tandem with continued testing.
And the fact some people cannot medically handle the vaccine means exemptions will have to be made.
But if Canada continues to dither on the file, it will become a forced follower in the months to come.
The European Union is proposing it. You’ll never get into Australia or New Zealand without it. The U.S., which is never shy about raising its drawbridges for America-first protection, will probably require proof of vaccination for inbound travellers.
Be it a digital imprint on your passport, a QR code that can be scanned from your phone at the security gate or a stamp on your health care card, something should be in the advanced planning stages by a government which insists we’ll see vaccination for everyone before the summer ends.
As for the anti-vaxxer crowd, well, perhaps it’s time to get booking those domestic staycations for the next few years.
Until COVID-19 has been vanquished to the pandemic history books, you’re going nowhere.
That’s the bottom line.