Doug Ford addresses the media on March 28, 2020Doug Ford addresses the media on March 28, 2020

Ford announces vaccine passport program

Heeding the growing chorus of voices calling for a vaccine passport, Premier Doug Ford has introduced a COVID-19 vaccine certification system.

Ford made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, saying it's the right strategy to halt the spread of the Delta variant.

“As the world continues its fight against the Delta variant, our government will never waver in our commitment to do what’s necessary to keep people safe, protect our hospitals and minimize disruptions to businesses,” Ford said. “Based on the latest evidence and best advice, COVID-19 vaccine certificates give us the best chance to slow the spread of this virus while helping us to avoid further lockdowns. If you haven’t received your first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, please do so today.”

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, said the system has begun in several other provinces.

"We need to be proactive to avoid reactive closures, and that means looking at best evidence and practices to maintain a strong chain of protection," said Moore. "Proof of vaccination is one such practice."

Beginning September 22, Ontarians aged 12 and over will have to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination in order to enter the following facilities:

- Restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, as well as delivery and takeout). - Nightclubs (including outdoor areas of the establishment) - Meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls and conference/convention centres - Facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities with the exception of youth recreational sport - Sporting events - Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments - Concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas - Strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs - Racing venues (e.g., horse racing)

The government says the requirement will not apply to outdoor settings where the risk of transmission is lower, except for outdoor nightclubs. It will also not apply to restaurant or bar employees.

“We know vaccines provide the best protection against COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott. “To protect the health and well-being of Ontarians, our government will offer one more tool to encourage even more Ontarians to receive the vaccine and provide further protection to fully vaccinated Ontarians as they safely enjoy activities with their loved ones and support their local businesses.”

Elliott added that an app will soon be launched to help businesses verify vaccination status while protecting people's privacy.

The province said people who can't be vaccinated due to medical exemptions will be allowed into the above-mentioned facilities with a doctor’s note until recognized medical exemptions can be integrated as part of a digital vaccine certificate.

Reaction from the other parties at Queens Park was swift. Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath of the NDP said Wednesday afternoon that it's a shame vaccine certifications are coming into play now.

"We should already have vaccine certificates in Ontario. But despite the rise of the fourth wave and schools re-opening soon, Doug Ford keeps dragging his feet, playing politics with public health and doing the bare minimum," said Horwath. "Vaccine certificates aren’t coming soon enough for the small businesses that have been struggling without provincial guidance to keep their customers and staff safe."

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is happy to see certificates being implemented but agreed with Horwath that it should not have taken this long.

"I’m encouraged to see this long-overdue action, but we can never forget that Doug Ford only does the right thing when he is dragged there kicking and screaming," said Del Duca. "I am deeply concerned about how long it will take Doug Ford to fully roll the vaccine certificates out. Throughout this pandemic, these unnecessary delays have put lives at risk and left us in an unending cycle of lockdowns and confusion."

The Ministry of Health said COVID-19 vaccines are available at over 3,150 locations across Ontario, including pharmacies, doctor's offices, and mass vaccination clinics.

---with files from Scott Kitching and Mark Brown

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