Ontario launches Verify Ontario QR code for smartphone COVID-19 vaccine passport

·4 min read

Ontario residents can begin downloading the new QR version of the official Ministry of Health vaccine certificate beginning today, Oct. 15.

Ministry of Health officials outlined the new Enhanced Vaccine Certificate at a technical briefing held for the media Friday morning.

Saying that the new QR receipt was faster and more secure, the ministry outlined how the new process is now in place and will consist of three cohorts of citizens; the first being for those born in January to April can be downloaded as of Oct. 15.

The second cohort, for citizens born May to August, can be downloaded beginning Saturday, Oct. 16. The third cohort, for citizens born September to December, can download their vaccine receipt beginning on Sunday, Oct. 17.

Having the new app means that Ontario residents who have their full COVID-19 vaccinations can gain entry to several venues and services, such as pubs, restaurants, sporting events, casinos and other indoor entertainment events.

The new QR certificate can be obtained from the Verify Ontario App, which is available from Apple App Store for Apple devices and Google Play for Android. The Verify Ontario app works on Apple and Android devices, said the ministry. Residents can get more specific information by downloading from the Ontario Government Verify Ontario webpage.

Some Ontario residents have already reported difficulties in getting through on the Ministry of Health webpage and have been advised to try again later.

In terms of security, the officials said if anyone tries to copy your information or use your OHIP health card to produce a receipt, the user must still provide matching photo identification with your name and birthdate that will match the information on the receipt. This is regarded as a key component in the security of the system.

The ministry said the system also protects user privacy by only reading Ministry of Health certificates that are trusted. The information portrayed by the QR code will only show basic vaccine information along with information to identify the user. For anyone worried about how long their information would be displayed on a business screen, the ministry official said about 20 seconds, just long enough to identify the user.

Also, once a new code is scanned, the information from the previous customer is erased.

Business owners will be responsible for obtaining a scanning device, such as a tablet, to read the new QR code. Once a code is scanned, the system will provide an instant result.

A green screen with a white checkmark means the user has their correct vaccinations. A red screen with a white X means the user cannot enter. A yellow screen means there is a technical problem with the scan. The user might be asked to produce a paper copy of their vaccination receipt.

Also, for businesses or citizens who do not have access to a smartphone, the use of a paper vaccination receipt is considered acceptable with a photo ID.

Ministry officials said the new app is also being developed to accept a special QR code for people with medical exemptions. The process is not finalized yet, but it is likely a person with an approved medical exemption would need to visit their local health unit to have their exemption recorded and entered into the COVAX computerized vaccine database. The ministry official said the exemption would likely have to be approved by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In a similar vein, the ministry said it still has to work out some bugs in the system with respect to accepting QR code receipts from other provinces. A ministry official said work is underway with other provinces and Public Health Canada to have codes that will be accepted. Some testing has been done, but there are still "some technical incompatibilities."

It was also revealed that the Verify Ontario App can be amended to add other provinces and jurisdictions without the user having to update the app with his or her personal device.

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com, covering health care in Northern Ontario. The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible by a grant from the federal government.

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com

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