The Ontario government has extended its COVID-19 vaccine passport program beyond Jan. 17, 2022, the original scheduled date to start phasing out the restrictions, while introducing stricter public health measures for verifying medical exemptions.
Announced by Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, the new measures come ahead of the winter season during which COVID-19 infection cases and related variants are expected to increase.
“The actions we take today … will help reduce the risk of transmission during the winter months and further encourage every eligible Ontarian to get their shot,” Moore said.
“While we are currently experiencing an expected increase in Delta cases, cases related to the Omicron variant are expected to continue to rise in Ontario in the coming weeks.”
On Jan. 4, individuals will be required to use an enhanced vaccine certificate with a QR code and the Verify Ontario app in settings where proof-of-vaccination is required.
Moore said the government also intends to strengthen the verification process for medical or clinical trial exemptions. The province will also increase rapid testing for those in high-risk congregate settings to protect vulnerable populations, an addition to Ontario’s free “holiday testing blitz” that offers voluntary rapid testing for asymptomatic individuals.
Over the holiday season, Ontario residents are advised to limit both their social gatherings and the number of gatherings they attend.
“If you are planning on hosting holiday events, it is advisable to ensure everyone in attendance is fully vaccinated,” Moore said.
The Ontario government will also expand the third booster dose for all individuals aged 18 and above on Jan. 4, as long as it has been at least six months since they received their second dose.
Moore said schools will remain open before and after the holidays, while the provincial government continues to monitor the risks.
“At present we’re not contemplating any closures earlier than anticipated in any delays in opening but I am concerned about the rise in Omicron across Ontario,” he said.