Ontario extends proof of vaccination program amid rising COVID-19 cases

Booster eligibility being expanded to Ontarians 18 plus beginning Jan. 4

As Ontario hit 1,453 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest one-day tally since the end of May, the province is extending the vaccine certificate program.

The province initially proposed to phase out proof of vaccination in mid-January, but now the system will remain in place until further notice.

“With cases expected to increase during the winter months, and as we continue to monitor the evolving global evidence around the Omicron variant, we must remain vigilant. We are still learning about the new variant, but we can expect that the months ahead may be very challenging,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said at a news conference Friday.

As well, in a bid to crackdown on forgery reported with the printed version of the vaccine certificate, and effective Jan. 4, 2022, the province will require the use of the enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code and the Verify Ontario app in settings where proof of vaccination is required. The QR code can be used digitally or by printing a paper copy.

Proof of vaccination is currently required in order to attend numerous indoor settings, such as bars, gyms, restaurants and movie theatres.

Beginning Dec. 20, youths aged 12 to 17 participating in organized sports at recreational facilities will be required to show proof of vaccination.

The province says it is also strengthening the verification process for medical exemptions and clinical trial exemptions by requiring a certificate with a QR code. Organizations and businesses that are under the proof-of-vaccination system will be advised to no longer accept physician notes as of Jan. 10, 2022.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health, is strongly advising people to limit their social gatherings and the number of gatherings they attend over the holiday season. He said additional precautions should be taken if all individuals are not fully vaccinated or where vaccination status is unknown. Moore said employers in all industries should make every effort to allow employees to work from home.

The province is also expanding booster dose eligibility to all Ontarians 18 years of age and older beginning on Jan. 4, 2022. Appointments can be booked about six months after receiving a second dose. As well, starting on Monday, Dec. 13 at 8 a.m., individuals aged 50 and over will be eligible to schedule their booster dose appointment.

The Ford government has ruled out widespread closures or lockdowns.

While Delta remains the prominent variant driving up infections in Ontario, there is growing concern about the new Omicron variant, which is more infectious.

Moore said that Omicron now represents 10 per cent of all new infections in the province. He said projections from Ontario Public Health show this trend will continue at a rapid pace.

“It’s truly proving itself to be a highly transmissible strain and more transmissible than Delta,” Moore said. “I do think this is absolutely recent activity.”

Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said at a media briefing on Wednesday that there was a real potential that he will require capacity limits that had been lifted in October to be put back in place for businesses in an effort to bring the present surge under control.

“This is the seventh week in a row in which Simcoe Muskoka has had a higher rate than the provincial average,” Gardner stated.

“We are much higher than the province as a whole, much higher than any of the health units in the Greater Toronto Area.”

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