Ontario expands eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots, cuts capacity limits in some indoor spaces

Ontario is expanding eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots to anyone 18 and older starting Monday and is limiting capacity in some indoor spaces as cases of the Omicron variant surge in the province.

The government also announced Wednesday it’s shortening the required interval between a person’s second dose and booster shot from six months down to three months.

The government said pharmacies may also provide boosters starting Dec. 17 for walk-ins.

COVID-19 rapid tests will also be availible to residents free of charge at pop-up testing sites located at high-traffic public areas, as well as at LCBO retail locations, effective immediately.

The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, previously said boosters would be available to anyone over the age of 18 starting on Jan. 4. 

“I need you to book your booster as soon as you’re able to because we know without a shadow of a doubt that these vaccines work and boosters are the best way to prevent the worst,” Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.

“Everyone has a role to play in the next phase of our provincial COVID response. It’s all hands on deck and it starts with booster shots.”

SOME CAPACITY LIMITS SLASHED

Starting Dec. 18, Ontario will reintroduce capacity limits of 50 per cent for indoor entertainment venues, meeting and event spaces, and sports venues with an indoor capacity of greater than 1,000 people.

According to the government, this could include venues like concerts, theatres and cinemas, racing venues, studio audiences in commercial film and television production, museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions. 

It also includes casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments, as well as fairs, rural exhibitions, and festivals.

“We need to target the largest crowds indoors where people are often unmasked,” Ford said. “I know this will be tough, but it’s an important step in ensuring we slow the spread of Omicron as we urgently accelerate boosters, because as I said earlier, it’s all hands on deck.”

The government says as of Dec. 15, there are 153 COVID-19-related patients in intensive care and approximately 600 beds are currently available.

Nearly 500 additional intensive care beds are also available for surge capacity if required, the government says.

“While cases were always expected to rise, the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant could put an additional strain on Ontario’s hospital capacity,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said.

People aged 18 and over will be eligible to schedule their booster dose appointment through Ontario’s booking portal, by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre (1-833-943-3900), through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, participating pharmacies and primary care settings.

LOCKING DOWN NOT THE SOLUTION, FORD SAYS

Ford told reporters that while “everything is on the table” in terms of the potential for further restrictions, he doesn’t think a lockdown is the solution to the rapid rise in Omicron cases.

“This isn’t the solution. The solution is making sure everyone goes out and gets a booster shot in every corner of this province, and that’s our plan.”

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