TORONTO — Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required to access non-essential businesses in Ontario, including gyms, indoor restaurants, movie theatres and concert halls, under the province’s new vaccine certification program starting Sept. 22.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, saying the certificate is necessary to keep non-essential businesses and facilities open as the Delta variant continues to fuel a fourth COVID-19 wave.
“After in depth discussions with our medical experts, we’ve landed on a vaccine certificate policy that is based on evidence and the best advice,” Ford told reporters. “Vaccinations will be mandatory for certain indoor settings where the risk of transmission is highest because masks aren’t always worn.”
“Enforcement led by bylaw officers will be reasonable and will rely on individuals and businesses to do the right thing.”
Eligible people will need to be fully vaccinated with two doses and have a provincial certificate to visit casinos, bingo halls, concert venues, theatres, cinemas, sporting facilities and events, banquet halls, convention centres, and to eat at indoor food and drink establishments.
Officials said that a certificate would not be needed for retail shopping, salons, banks, places of worship, essential services, workplaces or patios and other outdoor spaces.
The new rules will also not apply to children under the age of 12 and people with medical exemptions.
As the government works to develop a digital vaccine certificate for October, the province says for now people will use their vaccine receipts available in PDF format on the provincial portal. People with red-and-white health cards can call the vaccine booking line to get a copy of their receipt.
At the entrance of applicable businesses, residents will need to present the receipt alongside government-issued photo identification, and, for now, it will be visually verified by the venues and organizations.
For the official vaccine certificate, the province is working to establish personalized QR codes for vaccinated individuals, which is expected to be ready for Oct. 22. People could either print or store the PDF QR code on their phone. It must be used alongside government-issued photo ID.
The government is also developing an app for businesses to scan and verify the contents of the QR code, which will also be ready in October.
In the coming weeks, the province said it’s working to establish a process to prove vaccination status for people with no e-mail, health card or ID, as well as support the implementation of vaccine certificates for Indigenous communities.
The province warned that proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a recent infection would not replace the vaccine certificates. There will be a limited time exception for funerals and weddings between Sept. 22 and Oct. 12. A negative test taken within 48 hours will enable a person to enter if not fully vaccinated.
Over the past several days, officials met multiple times to discuss the details around Ontario’s vaccine certification system. Plans for vaccine passports have already been rolled out in multiple other Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Quebec, and Manitoba.
“My friends, it’s no secret this is something that I did not want to do. This is a serious step that we’re not taking lightly,” Ford told reporters on Wednesday.
“This is a temporary tool that we won’t use any longer than we have to but … I know that this is what we have to do right now in the face of the fourth wave because these certificates are necessary to keep our hospitals safe and to avoid another lockdown.”
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist in Toronto, told CP24 on Wednesday that Ontario would likely see an increase in vaccinations following the announcement. Currently, about 83 per cent of residents 12 and older in Ontario have at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 76 per cent are fully vaccinated.
“We will likely see a pretty reasonable jump in people booking their vaccines. We saw that in France, we saw that in Quebec, we saw that in B.C. I think we will probably see the same thing in Ontario,” he said.
“People who might have been sitting on the fence are going to say, ‘Wow, if I want to participate in non-essential activities, go to non-essential businesses, like restaurants, like bars, like concerts or whatever, I need a vaccine, I’m going to go get one.'”
He added that while vaccine certificates and passports are important, they are not the overall “solution to the pandemic.”
“This helps create a safer indoor space,” he said. “This is not the only thing that needs to be done. This is one major policy decision that can be taken to keep places open.”