“That doesn’t mean I don’t think that people shouldn’t be vaccinated. It means we have to deal with the reality of the fact that there will be a small number unvaccinated,” he said.
Widespread vaccination mandates are in place, but new rules are being implemented in the coming days as the more transmissible Omicron variant whips across the country.
There must be a way to accommodate people like them that also keeps public health intact, he said, such as greater use of rapid tests.
Among them is a requirement starting next week for cross-border truckers to show proof of vaccination, an approach O’Toole said risks thousands of job losses and further kinks in the supply chain.
With most of the population vaccinated, Canada ought to be able to manage some semblance of normal life using rapid tests and greater access to personal protective gear, O’Toole told a news conference in Ottawa.
Currently, close to 80 per cent of Canada’s population is considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although first doses continue to be administered daily, including to children aged five to 11, who became eligible only late last year.
O’Toole castigated the government for the pace at which it is getting more rapid tests into the hands of Canadians.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that 140 million rapid tests will be shipped to the provinces this week, following the delivery of 35 million tests last month.
Prior to December, Ottawa had ordered 95 million tests, and O’Toole noted that provinces cited a lack of tests in delaying the return to school this month, raising questions about whether the federal supply is actually meeting provincial demand. Delaying the start of in-person school is one of many reimposed public health measures as cases surge due to the Omicron strain.
Hospitalization rates are also rising, and data suggests that Canadians who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized if they become infected. In British Columbia, for example, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for just 16.2 per cent of COVID-19 cases reported between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3, but accounted for 51. 4 per cent of hospitalizations in that same time period.
The need to protect health-care capacity is the chief reason for the new restrictions. O’Toole did not answer directly when he was asked Thursday why people who have chosen not to get vaccinated should be accommodated when their hospitalization rates are resulting in increased restrictions for vaccinated Canadians.
O’Toole also said the federal government’s failures to deliver on rapid tests, personal protective equipment and efficient contact tracing mean provinces have no choice but to force business closures and tell people to seek federal economic assistance. “He’s funding lockdowns as opposed to funding tools to actually help us keep some balance here,” he said.
“If I thought that was a way to get vaccination levels up, I would have taken that approach during the election,” he said. Instead, he accused Trudeau of sowing division by turning vaccination into a political issue since last summer’s federal election campaign.