OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said Thursday those unwilling to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should be accommodated through measures like rapid testing, as health experts warn the lightning-fast spread of the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
Ontario is reporting an uptick in hospitalizations and days ago made the decision to keep school-aged kids learning from home for at least two weeks, which Doug Ford's government said was to take pressure off the health-care system.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says of the 319 patients in intensive care, 232 of them are not fully immunized against COVID-19 or have an unknown status, while 87 are double-vaccinated.
Mandatory vaccination policies have proven to be a difficult issue for O'Toole to navigate, even within his own caucus, as some of his MPs have refused to confirm their status. Some Tory MPs forcefully condemn vaccine mandates as threatening people's livelihoods and violating their medical privacy.
O'Toole came out as opposed to vaccine mandates during last year's election campaign and on Thursday accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of fuelling vaccine hesitancy by attacking those who haven't yet received their shots.
Trudeau said Wednesday that Canadians are angry at those who refuse to be vaccinated because they are filling up hospital beds, causing cancer treatments and elective surgeries to be put off.
The Conservative leader says he refuses to criticize people who aren't vaccinated and believes "reasonable accommodations" should be provided to them, like those who work in the trucking industry, to avoid service disruptions and labour shortages under mandatory vaccination policies.
"There is going to be as much as 15 per cent of the population that is not vaccinated."
Canadians should be proud that most of the population has been immunized, O'Toole said, adding the medical experts he's spoken with say the way to reach those who haven't is through education and addressing their anxieties.
"In some cases," O'Toole said, "you will have to try and find reasonable accommodations between keeping people safe and people not losing their job, losing their home, not being able to provide for their kids. I don't think that position is irrational when people's lives are on the line."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press