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LIVING WITH COVID: Lifting of vaccine passports is 'fantastic news'

'I think there is becoming a wide acceptance of learning to live with COVID and so the government is starting to lift restrictions that we used to have,' says Orillia doctor
Brewery Bay Taylor Obee
Brewery Bay manager, Taylor Obee, is pictured checking the I.D. and vaccine passport of a local customer. The province has announced that it is scrapping the vaccine mandate as of March 1.

Editor's Note: This article has been edited from its original version.

Unvaccinated people will be able to eat inside local restaurants, enjoy a movie at the Galaxy and shop at their favourite local business again next month as the Ontario government is scrapping vaccine passports as of March 1.

Orillia doctor Jeff Pitcher, says people are exhausted due to the stress of lockdowns and social isolation resulting from a two-years-long pandemic. 

"It's really taken a toll on people," he said. "I think there is becoming a wide acceptance of learning to live with COVID and so the government is starting to lift restrictions that we used to have." 

Pitcher, who created a Facebook page to help educated the community about COVID-19, said the vaccine passports were created to encourage the uptake of the vaccine. 

"We know that vaccines are very effective and safe," he said. "The vaccine uptake in Canada has saved over 500,000 lives across the country."

Some recent studies are showing that vaccines can theoretically decrease COVID transmission, Pitcher explained.

"By getting vaccinated we can further minimize disruptions to businesses and industries by reducing infections and preventing further lockdowns," he said.

"I think we are learning to live with COVID and while doing so the public must be empowered to make their own decisions." 

Pitcher encourages people to continue to mask going forward as a way to protect susceptible people. He says a well-fitted medical mask protects a user for up to 25 minutes if they are in a room with someone who has the virus. An N95 mask protects a user for up to 24 hours. 

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke says eliminating vaccine passports seems to be a positive thing for the community. 

“The direction to lessen the measures is inevitable and will be necessary for the health of our community in a number of ways,” he said. “This allows people to get back to physical activity in a more wholesome way. It’s certainly better for our mental health, and hopefully better for our economic health which has been really suffering.”

For the business community, Clarke says getting things back to normal is necessary.

“There have been sectors that have been close to decimated,” he said. “It’s quite obvious that we need to get back to a level of economic activity that will keep our businesses viable.”

Despite capacity restrictions and vaccine passports being lifted, Clarke encourages Orillians to continue following mandates to keep the momentum going toward the permanent lifting of all restrictions.

“The last thing we want to do is be irresponsible and end up with another COVID-related health crisis in our community and have to shut things down,” he said.

Clarke credits the vaccinated for the easing of restrictions being possible.

“We have a high level of vaccination,” he said. “The Omicron variant was highly transmissible, and it was suspected that a third of the population actually caught it. The reason it wasn’t as effective as other variants is it ran into a community wall of vaccinated people.”

Allan Lafontaine, executive director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce, says the lifting of vaccine passports is “fantastic news.”

“Businesses have had to step up and do some extraordinary things,” he said. “Removing the passport requirement and the contact tracing allows them to concentrate on the business at hand while being at full capacity.”

Lafontaine isn’t worried the easing of restrictions may be coming too early.

“We need to stop being afraid as to what might happen,” he said. “The Delta variant was the most difficult, Omicron was the most contagious, but if you were double vaccinated it doesn’t seem to have as much of an effect.”

Lafontaine is more concerned with the mental health effects that people are suffering from due to ongoing mandates and restrictions.

“I still think we need to be careful and wash our hands,” he said. “I think we need to social distance, and people not feeling well should stay home. But there is also a certain point where we need to take some calculated risks to get back to normal.”

Lafontaine says Orillia businesses are looking forward to getting things back on track.

“Two years has been a long time,” he said. “Based on positivity rates, we need to get back to our normal life.”

Rick Purcell, president of Branch 34 of the Royal Canadian Legion, says the Legion will continue to make sure people are vaccinated before entering the waterfront facility.

“We have a lot of older people here,” he said. “Our policy is you have to be double vaccinated and that won’t change until this all goes away.”

Purcell says it’s important to protect the community’s elderly despite the lifting of vaccine mandates.

“We have people with oxygen tanks and health complications,” he said. “We still have the authority to ask people their vaccination status before coming here, which we think is an important step.”