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Canada’s vaccine passport for travellers expected ‘within weeks’

Canada’s vaccine passport for travellers expected ‘within weeks’
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OTTAWA — A standardized vaccine passport that would pave Canadians’ way for easier domestic and international travel could be coming in a matter of weeks, with recent delays less about buy-in from provinces and more about the technology behind the system.

Ottawa first began working on a national vaccine passport this spring. Days before the federal election was called in August, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino — who leads the federal department tasked with implementing a proof of vaccination system for international travel — said the government’s hope was to launch a vaccination credential program “as early as early fall.”

While it missed that target, the goal now is to have a vaccine passport available “within weeks,” a senior government source told the Star. If that deadline isn’t met, “it won’t be longer than a week or two after that,” the source said.

That timeline would align with the federal government’s requirement for all travellers on planes, interprovincial trains and some maritime vessels to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Oct. 30.

It will be up to operators to establish their own processes to manually or digitally verify a traveller’s vaccination status.

The new rules sparked concern in the federal transportation sector from those who urged Ottawa to move quickly on implementing a standardized document that shows proof of vaccination. The European Union launched its own digital “COVID certificate” system at the start of July for all 27 of its member states, as well as several other countries.

The official also said that while provinces and the federal government agreed last spring on the value of having a national standard, the complication over the last couple of months has been over “who is going to issue this document, who is going to build the infrastructure, the IT infrastructure, and (who will) create and be the source of this document.”

The federal government initially anticipated an agreement with the provinces that would enable Ottawa to issue the document. But the source said Ottawa has landed on a “much simpler approach” with an agreement on a national standard that will indicate what features the document must include.

The current approach means that Ottawa does not need to see vaccination data that is held by the provinces and territories — information that includes who is vaccinated, when they got the shot, and which vaccine they received.

“The federal government doesn’t have that information and, quite frankly for privacy reasons, are happy to not have that information,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference on Oct. 6.

All provinces and territories are on board with the current arrangement, a second government source said, which leaves it up to them to provide proof that someone is vaccinated, with Ottawa giving those documents “a federal seal of approval” that will be accepted by other countries.

“The major work that needs to be done is technical, as opposed to political or getting everyone’s buy-in,” the source said.

A spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told the Star in a statement that the proof of vaccination credentials are “expected to have a common look ... and include the holder’s COVID-19 vaccination history, such as the number of doses, vaccine type(s), and date and place where doses were administered.”

There is no international consensus on what constitutes an acceptable proof of vaccination document, although the government says it is working with international partners to recognize Canadian credentials.

As Canada continues to finalize its system, the spokesperson said the government is also “implementing an international engagement strategy to encourage other countries and international partners to recognize people in Canada who have received mixed vaccine schedules or extended dose intervals as being ‘fully vaccinated.’”

But while Canadians immunized with the AstraZeneca vaccine were recently cleared to fly to the U.S. starting next month, Tuesday’s news that the land border between the U.S. and Canada would soon open up to fully vaccinated travellers still left those with mixed doses uncertain about their travel prospects.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is currently working on guidelines for visitors who have received a mixed schedule of doses.

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