Ontario will unveil a COVID-19 vaccination passport system for entry into restaurants, gyms, theatres and other non-essential venues as early as Wednesday, while it waits for a federal proof-of-vaccination certificate that’s common to all provinces.
The introduction follows a flurry of work in the last several days since Premier Doug Ford bowed to growing pressure for vaccination passports from local medical officers of health, as well as leaders in the business, academic and health-care sectors, and opposition parties.
“In an ideal world, this would be a federal document,” said a senior Ontario government source, expressing frustration with the lack of a national certificate as the federal election campaign continues.
“What’s changed? As it has throughout the pandemic, COVID has changed,” added the source — who spoke anonymously to discuss internal deliberations — in reference to the more highly contagious Delta variant.
The closely watched seven-day average of new infections hit 696 Monday. That figure was more than three times higher than the 189 recorded at the start of August, despite the fact that 76 per cent of Ontario residents aged 12 and up have been fully vaccinated.
Hospitalizations and intensive care admissions are up dramatically as well, mostly in unvaccinated people, although there currently remains plenty of capacity in the hospital system. There were no new deaths reported Monday.
Aside from making it safer to go out for exercise, dining and entertainment, the province is counting on vaccination certificates to serve as an incentive for more unvaccinated people to get their shots.
Ontario’s proposed system goes to a meeting of Ford’s cabinet for debate and approval on Tuesday, and comes as British Columbia releases details of its own plan.
The B.C. order will require at least one dose of vaccine for entry to “a broad range of social, recreational and discretionary events and businesses” starting Sept. 13 and two doses by Oct. 24 with proof required to be shown along with a valid piece of identification.
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“Our B.C. vaccine card is an essential interim action until we transition to a federally compliant proof of vaccine,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement.
An expiry date of Jan. 31 has been set in B.C., which could be extended.
Opposition parties in Ontario said an expiry date should be a feature of the Ford government’s plan and encouraged the province to borrow ideas from B.C. and Quebec, which has a vaccination passport system taking effect in September as well.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel,” New Democrat MPP France Gelinas (Nickel Belt), her party’s health critic, said after participating in a “vaccine summit” with rival parties and union, health and business groups organized by the Liberals.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch of University Health Network, a member of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, agreed it’s important to have “standardized Canadian documentation” for vaccination passports, which citizens will also need to travel internationally.
He cautioned on Twitter about expecting too much from vaccination certificates, saying they “can help create safer indoor spaces but are far from perfect.”
Advocates say a provincial system is needed to improve safety and to avoid what Green Leader Mike Schreiner called “a hodgepodge” of vaccination requirements, given that dozens of businesses and organizations have recently announced their own policies requiring shots or negative tests.
A provincial system will reduce confusion and take pressure off businesses that might otherwise face blame or protests from opponents of vaccination certificates, said Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who applauded Ford’s change of heart urged speedy action.
“It feels like we’re moving in the right direction,” Del Duca said.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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