A lifetime ago, at least a decade ago — actually, a little over a year ago — I wrote a column about the need for provinces to bring in mask mandates. For my own provincial government to bring a mask mandate. That was July 2020, when I was living in the Atlantic provinces, where case numbers were, comparatively, very, very small.
Why did I say that?
Because the number of cases in the country were rising, and because masks are a simple and effective way to stop the spread of infection. (Which is why, of course, everyone wears them in operating rooms when the surgery’s getting done, and no one complains about their rights being violated.)
But that wasn’t the only reason. It was also because I felt stupid and self-conscious about wearing a mask when other people weren’t. The thing is, our own idiosyncrasies have a way of interfering with the things we know we should do — until we’re told we don’t have a choice.
So, now let’s talk a little bit about two-way, bare-knuckle pragmatism. And about vaccine passports. The concept is simple: if you want to move back to normal life, you have to show that you’re vaccinated. Much the same way that, if you want to drive a car on public roads, you actually have to take a driver’s test and show you know how to do that driving thing.
The thing is, vaccine passport plans have an interesting effect.
When British Columbia and Quebec announced that people would need vaccine proof to do the things they liked — go to restaurants, concerts, clubs, etc., the number of vaccine appointments leaped, particularly among those getting first doses, and also among younger people who hadn’t been surging towards vaccination.
In B.C., after the Aug. 23 vaccine card announcement, appointments for first doses in the under-40 group tripled. Around the same time, in Quebec, after the announcement in that province of incoming vaccine passports, appointments for doses jumped by 50 per cent.
This past week, Ontario announced that it, too, would be moving to new rules and the introduction of a vaccine passport. Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott, tweeted that bookings for vaccines “almost doubled” the day after an “advanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate” announcement. “We’re already seeing thousands more Ontarians roll up their sleeves, nearly half of whom are receiving their first dose,” Elliott wrote.
Imagine that: the recalcitrant in the non-vaccination set actually found the reason why they might need to get a shot. It’s not as altruistic as wanting to protect your family, friends and others in your community — far from it — but frankly, in this situation, it will do. Just as long as vaccinations occur, and the pool of people who might find themselves intubated in hospital intensive care units shrinks.
Meanwhile, in provinces with governments that haven’t announced plans for restrictions on attendance based on vaccination, vaccination rates have virtually flat-lined.
Premier Scott Moe’s government can continue to do nothing to rein in what is now clearly the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. They can continue to depend on municipalities and private businesses to do the heavy lifting the provincial government seems scared to do, instead of bringing in broad vaccination requirements.
But if they do nothing, they can be assured that a significant portion of the province’s population will continue to do exactly the same thing.
Do I even have to say the decision not to act would be the exact opposite of leadership?
Because it clearly is.
Russell Wangersky is the editor in chief of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
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