Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his government is finalizing plans to exit the final stage of the COVID-19 pandemic reopening roadmap and will “cautiously lift more public health measures.”
“The work began months ago and we’re finalizing the plan now, including where and when we may need to reapply measures should they be required to stop a surge in transmission,” Ford said in a press conference on Oct. 15.
“The chief medical officer of health has been clear. The objective is to avoid further lockdowns, and if additional measures are necessary they will be localized, tailored, and aimed at limiting disruption to businesses and families because this is not just a plan for the short term, but for the long term as well.”
Ford said the exit plan will be rolled out sometime next week and will provide Ontarians with “more certainty and a better idea what to expect in months ahead,” including updated travel guidelines for the approaching holidays.
On Oct. 8, the Ontario government lifted capacity restrictions for large venues such as concert halls, theatres, and sports arenas, while limits remain in place for bars, restaurants, and other small businesses. When questioned about the inconsistency, Ford said his exit plan will “stand the test of time” and he won’t rush a policy that might “backfire.”
Enhanced Vaccine Certificate
The premier also formally announced the release of Ontario’s QR code-enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate and verification system.
From Oct. 15, those born between January and April can download a QR code-enhanced certificate from the Ontario vaccine portal. Individuals born from May to August will be able to download the enhanced certificate on Oct. 16 and those born between September and December the following day.
By 6 a.m. on Oct. 18, enhanced certificates will be available for all Ontarians to download.
Starting Oct. 15, businesses and organizations can scan and check the authenticity of their customers’ QR codes using the Verify Ontario app.
“This will give businesses an opportunity to test and get used to the app well ahead of Oct. 22 implementation of the enhanced certificate,” Ford said. “Together, the enhanced certificate and Verify Ontario will make it easier and more secure for Ontarians to show their proof of vaccine.”
When asked why the medical exemption factor was left out in the new QR code app, Kaleed Rasheed, Ontario’s associate minister of Digital Government, said the technology is currently under development.
“The way the technology is developed right now, the QR code is connected to our health callback system and once the callback system has all the necessary information, the QR code will be updated automatically and then accordingly individuals can download those QR codes respectively,” Rasheed said.
In light of Quebec’s decision to delay its vaccination mandate for hospital workers from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15 to avoid staff shortages, Ford said Ontario has “maintained flexibility” for health authorities to implement mandatory vaccine policies.
He pointed out that a decision to implement a province-wide vaccine mandate “needs to be weighed against the real risk of staff shortages that could compromise care.”
“According to recent estimates, 15 percent of our health system workforce remains unvaccinated, putting the magnitude of potential staff losses in the tens of thousands,” Ford said. “Let me be clear, every hospital worker should be vaccinated, and we encourage all of them to get vaccinated.”
“When our doctors and nurses are already stretched to their limits, especially in northern and rural areas, we can’t afford to lose qualified staff,” he added.
Earlier this month, the province announced mandatory vaccination for long-term care home staff. Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of Health of Ontario, confirmed that the government is now moving to expand the measure to other jurisdictions including acute care, home care, and education.
“Yes, we started the consultation process once again with our partners in the acute care sector. We’re also going to be expanding the review of directives for public health agencies,” Moore said.
“We’ve had further discussions with the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario College of Family Physicians about having immunization policies for all primary care in Ontario so the list of partners by which we’re having immunization policies in place is expanding and will be put in place next week.”