Vaccine passport for international travel ‘very live’ discussion among G7 countries: Hajdu

OTTAWA — As countries continue to vaccinate larger segments of their populations, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says that discussions about introducing some form of vaccine passport are “very live” among the G7 countries.

“We’re certainly working on the idea of vaccine passports with our G7 partners. I was on a call with my G7 health minister counterparts just a couple of weeks ago, and that is a very live issue,” Hajdu said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.

While Hajdu wouldn’t say if it’s an idea Canada is pushing for—requiring some form of proof of vaccination to travel to Canada—she said other nations and industry groups are looking into the kind of evidence or documentation that could be requested in order to travel internationally.

“We’ll be coming back to Canadians as we understand more about the intentions of our counterparts internationally, and as we understand more about how that will unfold around the world,” she said.

Some European countries have begun to signal they’ll be requesting proof of immunization against COVID-19 to allow foreign travellers to enter, in a similar way to how nations like Canada are requiring non-essential visitors to show a pre-departure negative test.

Canada is currently not allowing people to show a proof of vaccination as a way to be permitted entry under the pandemic restrictions.

“At this time, proof of having a vaccine does not replace a valid test result,” reads the federal government’s international travel information page.

U.K.’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi told CTV’s Question Period in a separate interview that the British government is working on the logistics of these requirements so that its citizens will have the ability to resume travel for work or leisure abroad

Canadian health ethicists have cautioned against rushing to adopt forms of vaccine passports to permit citizens to attend large events or resume other pre-pandemic norms, but when it comes to travel it may become “almost inevitable,” as University of Toronto bio-ethicist Kerry Bowman recently said on CTV News Channel.

Hajdu said that Canada is concerned about equity and doesn’t want to see a two-tiered system given the limited number of people who are able to access COVID-19 vaccines so far, but noted “there are requirements to travel internationally around disease prevention already.”

The federal government continues to strongly advise against international travel, as the threat of variant spread continues to be a pressing concern.

Nearly a year into the global pandemic Canada’s border strategy continues to shift, including most recently the rocky and contentious introduction of mandatory quarantine in hotels.

As of late February the federal government has required all travellers who have returned to Canada from travel abroad to stay in a designated hotel for at least three days, at their own expense, while they await a PCR test taken upon arrival. The system’s faced criticisms from travellers raising issues with the service, as well as serious concerns over the safety of these sites.

In the interview, Hajdu said she “wasn’t exactly thrilled” in the early days with how the program unfolded, but isn’t heeding calls from the Conservatives to pull the plug on the facilities altogether.

She said the issues experienced by some travelers are being worked out and as the virus evolves, Canadians should expect border measures to as well. Vaccine or not, people should continue to avoid any non-essential travel outside of Canada, she said.

Asked whether the conversation around proof of vaccination could play a role when it comes to domestic travel, Hajdu said it hasn’t come up yet in talks she’s had with her provincial and territorial health counterparts.

“We know that different provinces and territories have taken different stances around domestic travel, and of course, while COVID-19 is raging in parts of the country, often we will hear the requests by different parts of the country to just stay put to resist the urge to travel even domestically. But what I can say is that the health ministers are always reviewing their own stances on interprovincial travel,” she said.

In a recent interview with CTVNews.ca, University of Toronto public health ethicist Alison Thompson spoke about the need to balance incentivizing people to get vaccinated while ensuring any requirements to prove vaccination before being able to travel or attend larger events doesn’t become coercive.

Thompson said that it’s a conversation the general public should be having and not just among policymakers because it will impact everyone.

“This is maybe one of those times because it has implications for people’s freedom of movement and for immigration and those types of things that I would hope that the federal government would want to lead that conversation and have an eye on the kinds of inequities across provinces that could arise,” she said.

With files from CTV News’ Sarah Turnbull

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