Ontario’s chief medical officer says it’s time to “reassess” vaccine passports and other public health measures in the coming weeks as COVID-19 declines and other countries like the United Kingdom drop most restrictions.
The remarks from Dr. Kieran Moore came at his weekly news conference as convoys of truckers were expected to descend on Queen’s Park this weekend, demanding an end to proof-of-vaccination programs, vaccine mandates and other precautions as they have in Ottawa.
“I think we have to reassess the value of the passports in the coming weeks and months,” Moore said Thursday, going into more detail than his pledge last week to reconsider restrictions in the spring.
“Now that we have safe and effective vaccines, as well as safe and effective outpatient treatments and in-patient treatments, it comes to a time where we are going to have to decide how many public health measures we will maintain going forward,” he added.
“It is worthwhile as a society to start having those discussions.”
On the proof-of-vaccination system that Premier Doug Ford’s government implemented in September for entry into non-essential venues like restaurants, bars, gyms, sports arenas and cinemas, Moore acknowledged the required two doses of vaccine do not prevent transmission of the Omicron variant as well as they did when the Delta strain was dominant.
But he noted three doses “give you much better protection against the risk of transmission” with Omicron.
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There is pressure on the government from several medical experts and opposition parties to make three doses a requirement for the vaccine passports — something a senior government official told the Star in mid-December is “where this is headed eventually.”
Moore stressed next steps on the vaccine passports and other measures are a “government decision.” The plan is to decrease more business and gathering restrictions Feb. 21 and March 14.
Masking requirements remain in place and “will be the last of the measures to go,” he said, adding that many people may choose to keep wearing masks in close quarters to protect themselves, particularly in fall and winter.
Moore encouraged more Ontarians to get their booster shots. So far, 6.4 million have done so.
While 14.6 per cent of people who get PCR tests for COVID are positive for the virus, that is down from 18.4 per cent last week. Wastewater surveillance — relied on more heavily in the absence of widespread PCR testing — is also showing reduced levels of the virus.
“These trends are encouraging, but we must remain vigilant and adhere to the measures that are helping reduce transmission, such as staying home when you’re sick. Wearing a well-fitted mask. Distancing and getting vaccinated and boosted,” Moore said.
PCR testing has now been opened to family members of health-care workers. The nasal swab tests were eliminated for the general public before Christmas because Omicron was spreading so quickly and testing capacity had to be restricted.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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