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Retail Stocks: Walmart, Costco and other big-box stores in Canada begin enforcing vaccine mandates, and some shoppers aren’t buying it

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Some retailers in Canada are now requiring proof of vaccination, and not everybody is happy.

Local regulations in the Canadian province Quebec taking effect this week mandate that big-box stores like Walmart WMT, +0.07%, IKEA and Costco COST, -0.20% require customers over the age of 13 to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 before entering.

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“Hi. As directed by the Government of Quebec, we will implement the vaccine passport at our stores in Quebec. We ask for our customer’s patience and understanding as we continue to ensure a safe and efficient customer experience,” Walmart Canada tweeted.

But some customers took to Twitter TWTR, +0.65% to express displeasure with the new requirements, leading the hashtag #BoycottWalmart to trend on Tuesday. Some U.S. shoppers joined in the protestation of vaccine mandates.

Another sticking point for critics: viral photos of plexiglass dividers at some Walmart locations in Quebec, which some falsely suggested were meant to isolate unvaccinated people trying to enter the store. Walmart has debunked those accusations, however, explaining in posts on Twitter that the dividers are for store employees to check vaccine passports.

On the flip side, many on social media supported the guidelines and the intent to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect workers and customers from a virus that has infected more than 355.5 million people globally, and killed more than 5.61 million, with the extraordinarily contagious omicron variant leading to nearly unprecedented daily COVID diagnoses.

This is just a sampling of posts about the Canadian vaccine mandates, of course, and does not indicate that equal numbers of people support and oppose the rule taking effect this week.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts have repeatedly stated that authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and help protect people against COVID-19, especially against severe illness, hospitalization and death from the virus. And hundreds of millions of people have safely received a COVID-19 vaccine.

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But some people, and not just in North America, chafe at vaccine requirements. Last week, the Michigan-based workwear company Carhartt drew online backlash after its CEO sent an email to employees stating that workers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Feb. 15. “An unvaccinated workforce is both a people and business risk that our company is unwilling to take,” wrote CEO Mark Valade.

Starbucks announced this week that its employees would no longer be required to get vaccinated against COVID, after the Supreme Court struck down an OSHA rule that companies of more than 100 people put in place vaccine requirements with a frequent-testing opt-out.

Canada has a higher vaccination rate than the U.S. does, with 77.46% of the country’s total population fully vaccinated, according to the Canadian government, compared with 63.4% in the United States, per the CDC’s vaccine tracker. Vaccination rates in Quebec are about the same as in the entirety of Canada.

Against this backdrop authorities including the World Health Organization have said of late that we could be seeing the end of the “acute phase” of the pandemic in 2022 — if countries pull together and get vaccines out to the global population.

Still, while U.S. cases are starting to come down from recent highs, hospitalizations remain above 156,000 a day, and deaths are still above 2,000 a day, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

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