The Ontario government has announced it will be requiring COVID-19 vaccination certificates for several indoor public settings such as restaurants, gyms and nightclubs, marking a major reversal in policy for Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet.
Officials announced on Wednesday that as of Sept. 22, Ontario residents will need to show proof of full vaccination (having received two doses at least 14 days before entry) along with photo ID in order to access the following settings: Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, meeting and event spaces, gyms and fitness facilities (exception for youth recreational sports), sports events, casinos, gaming establishments, concerts, music festivals, theatres, cinemas, strip clubs, bathhouses, and racing venues.
As of Oct. 22, the Ontario government is scheduled to roll out a new QR code-based application for residents and business operators to use in order for scans. Officials said new certificates similar to the current PDF ones will be issued. The new documents will contain a unique QR code that when scanned will display the holder’s current vaccination status (yes or no) and the person’s name.
Although the enhanced certificate program covers various indoor settings, other ones with a high number of congregants such as churches or settings where there are extended stays such as hair salons were left out of the program. Regardless of vaccination status, people can’t be prevented from accessing necessary medical care, food at groceries stores, medical supplies or other essential items.
People will not have the option of presenting a negative COVID-19 test or proof of a recent infection in order to get inside regulated establishments except for wedding or funeral receptions.
Children under 12 years old will be allowed to enter any of the settings where vaccine certificates are required since they are not eligible for vaccination.
Also, businesses that fall under the categories requiring the use of vaccine certificates won’t be required to enact mandatory vaccine policies. Instead, officials encouraged those operators to put in place vaccine policies.
Officials said eventually it’s the hope that those with legitimate medical exemptions such as people who have allergies or had adverse reactions to the first done will be able to have a document that can be scanned.
They noted for people who don’t have email or ID, or for Indigenous communities where data might be stored outside of the provincial COVID-19 vaccination database, a separate policy was scheduled to be announced later in the month.
For those business operators who don’t comply with checking the vaccination status of patrons or customers who present fake documents or ones not belonging to them will be subject to fines if caught and convicted. Provincial government staff said the final regulations are still being developed, but the potential fine for residents could be a minimum of $750 and at least $1,000 for corporations.
For those who don’t have a smartphone or easy access to getting an updated receipt with a QR code, they can call the provincial vaccine information line at 1-888-999-6488.
For anyone who needs a PDF copy of their vaccination receipt, they can visit the Ontario government’s COVID-19 vaccination portal.
Ford previously and repeatedly said he did not want to make vaccines mandatory, citing human rights violations and that it would create a “split society.” Both he and cabinet ministers have punted the issue to the federal government.
There have been mounting calls by local medical officers across Ontario for a provincewide COVID-19 vaccine certificate system when it comes to providing proof of inoculation to employers, for events or to gain entrance inside non-essential businesses. Some even mused about considering the implementation of vaccine passports on a regional level.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau recently singled out Ford for not mandating vaccines in non-essential settings, and promised $1 billion from a re-elected Liberal government for provinces to implement vaccine passport systems.
The group of scientists advising Ontario on the pandemic have said vaccine certificates would allow high-risk settings to reopen with greater capacity, and would help reintroduce public health measures if needed.
This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the afternoon.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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