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N.L.’s vaccine passport rolls out Friday. Here’s how it works

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has unveiled details of its vaccine passport program a day ahead of its Friday release, with the system set to eventually cover a wide swath of the province’s public life.

The passport follows in the footsteps of other province’s systems, taking the form of a QR code that either lives on a smartphone app or on a physical paper copy, a little smaller than a credit card. That code will be shown and scanned as the proof of COVID-19 vaccination required to access myriad businesses, centres and community spaces for those age 12 and up.

The app, dubbed “NLVaxPass,” stores the QR codes but no personal health information, according to the provincial government. 

Businesses and organizations must download a verifier app, NLVaxVerify, onto a mobile device in order to check people’s QR codes as they enter. If the person is fully vaccinated, a green bar appears, with an accompanying chime and buzz — if not, a red bar and a separate chime and vibration.

“Our vaccine passport apps are tools in our public health toolbox that will help stop the spread of the virus and help allow a new normal, albeit not the same as before,” Premier Andrew Furey said at the passport launch in St. John’s on Thursday afternoon.

No personal information, besides the person’s name, will appear when the code is verified, says the government, but the passport is still meant to be protected.

“Don’t post it on social media. Protect it as you would your MCP card,” said Sarah Stoodley, minister of digital government and Service N.L.

A QR code similar to this one will have to be presented either on a smartphone app or on paper as of Oct. 22 in order to gain entry to myriad businesses, organizations and activities in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Valid medical exemptions from immunization will be given a QR code and treated the same as if a person is fully vaccinated.

The free apps and codes will be released to the public Friday morning. But the passports only become mandatory Oct. 22, giving a grace period for people to get their information in order and businesses or organizations the chance to figure out enforcement workflows.

“You can begin using them right away, but after two weeks, it will be mandatory,” said Furey.

With the delta-driven fourth wave of the pandemic, vaccination targets have increased, and politicians at the launch stressed more people in Newfoundland and Labrador need to step up.

“We need to get to 90 per cent.… We’re nearly there, It’s up to you. So get your shot today, and download your app tomorrow,” said Health Minister John Haggie.

As of Thursday, 81 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated, with nearly 90 per cent having had a single dose.

Where it’s needed — and not

Vaccination remains a choice, but in two weeks, entry to most recreational and non-essential activities for people 12 and up will be regulated by the passports.

Bars, lounges and indoor entertainment — from movies to theatre to music performances — will all require proof of full vaccination. Indoor seating at restaurants is also covered, but not takeout, drive-thru or patios.

Health Minister John Haggie, speaking at the passport unveiling Thursday in St. John’s, urged people to get vaccinated and download the app. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Passports are mandatory for any gathering at a business or organization, from baby showers to retirement parties, and in order to access any personal services like hair salons or tattoo parlours. 

Indoor fitness facilities and arenas are also covered. Organized sports for youth from 12 to 18 years old are exempt, in an effort to encourage physical activity, according to the province.

Passports aren’t mandatory for faith-based activities. If such organizations opt out of the passport system, they must operate at half-capacity, with no singing, physical distancing and other measures in place. While the province did consider covering religious services entirely under the passport, after consulting with groups it opted not to.

Passports aren’t required for most essential services. That includes health-care facilities, schools and daycares, post-secondary institutions and retail stores, except car dealerships, where passports are in effect. Transportation services, including ferries, will also be exempt.

The St. John’s Board of Trade weighed in on a draft version of the plan, as businesses across the province will shoulder much of the burden to check people’s passports.

“Please remember to be kind to businesses as they adopt this additional safety measure,” said board of trade CEO AnnMarie Boudreau at the passport launch.

Out-of-province visitors will have to show proof of vaccination via a paper or electronic copy to comply. The provincial government is working with other provinces to standardize the QR system so travellers will be able to have their codes scanned the same as residents. 

The codes and the fines

The province says it will release the apps and update its COVID-19 vaccination portal at 8 a.m. NT Friday to allow people to download their QR codes.

QR codes can also be downloaded through the NLVaxPass. Up to 20 QR codes can be stored in an app to make it easier for families and people who share devices.

“We fully acknowledge there will be a learning curve for some people with this,” said Stoodley. To that end, there will be toll free help lines, educational material for businesses, as well as resources available through the public library system where staff have been trained to help.

While the government urged people to take the technology route, for people without any access to computers, there will be a toll-free phone number to call, and a printed QR code can be mailed out.

The provincial government isn’t providing financial support to businesses in order to comply with the verification process. Organizations will need to have their own mobile device to do so, although it doesn’t need to be connected to the internet on a regular basis for the app to work.

Photo ID or a combination of other identification will also have to be shown in order to verify QR codes, and there are fines for trying to skirt the system. Those start at $500 for people, and range from $5,000 to $50,000 for businesses, along with potential jail time. 

There will be government inspectors checking on the system, and police officers will also have the authority to issue tickets.

Employees at businesses requiring passports to enter will also have to be vaccinated, but the province is establishing a grace period until Dec.1 for those workers to get their shots.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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