Ontario will not require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school and will not add the vaccine to its list of mandatory immunizations, which includes illnesses like polio and measles, the province's top doctor says.
The vaccine will not be integrated into the Immunization of School Pupils Act "at present," Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said at a news conference Thursday.
"We have to look at the trends and the ongoing threat of this virus. If it persists season after season and is an ongoing threat, at that point we would review with government ... At present our goal was to improve outbreak management within the school settings and to enable local public health agencies to have the data they need at their fingertips to be able to respond to outbreaks."
The news comes as Ontario reported 409 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while announcing it is removing capacity limits for outdoor, organized events such as Remembrance Day ceremonies and Santa Claus parades as well as expanding testing options for students and school staff.
Moore said while Ontario is inching closer to its COVID-19 vaccination goal, it must also prepare for the upcoming flu season, "which also has the possibility of creating severe illness and having a serious impact on our health-care system."
How serious the flu season will be and when it will peak isn't known, Moore said, adding the best protection is to take the flu vaccine.
The vaccines are currently available to higher-risk groups. All Ontarians will be able to access flu shots beginning in November for anyone two years or older.
Most outdoor capacity limits lift
In addition to outdoor, organized events, outdoor capacity limits are also being lifted in most other sectors, such as fairs and festivals, outdoor areas of museums and zoos, and ski hills as well as other outdoor recreational amenities, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Christine Elliott said.
Outdoor social gatherings are still limited to 100 people and outdoor capacity limits at nightclubs remain in place.
Other regulatory changes include removing a requirement that vehicles stay two metres apart at drive-in or drive-thru venues.
Some cities, including Toronto, have already opted not to do a traditional Santa Claus parade with crowds this year.
The province announced Thursday it will provide a supply of take-home testing kits to all publicly funded schools starting in mid-November, as well as increasing rapid testing requirements for unvaccinated staff.
PSW pay bump extended to March
The province also said Thursday it is extending a temporary wage increase for more than 150,000 publicly funded personal support workers until the end of March.
The boost of between two and three dollars an hour was introduced last October, and was due to expire at the end of the month.
The province brought in the raise in an effort to attract new employees and retain existing ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. The province said the extension will cost $373 million.
Eligible workers in home and community care and long-term care have had their wages boosted by $3, as have people providing personal and direct support for children, community and social services.
Personal support workers in hospitals have a temporary $2 per hour raise.
Doctor barred from practice for vaccine exemptions
Also, an Ontario doctor who was barred from issuing medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines has now had her licence suspended.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario says it has suspended Dr. Rochagne Kilian's certificate of registration.
It said the move was made under legislation that allows it to issue such orders where there is evidence to support that patients would otherwise be exposed to risk of harm or injury.
The college's public records list Kilian as a family doctor in Owen Sound. She has the right to appeal the college's interim order in the courts.
Earlier this month the college imposed the restriction on issuing medical exemptions on Kilian and Dr. Mark Trozzi.
3 more COVID-related deaths
Meanwhile, the seven-day average of new daily cases in Ontario stood steady at 366.
The Ministry of Health also reported the deaths of three more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 9,865.
Here are some key pandemic indicators and figures from the government's daily provincial update:
New school-related cases: 80, including 75 students and four staff members. Two of Ontario's 4,844 publicly funded schools are currently closed due to COVID-19.
Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 132, with 93 needing a ventilator.
Tests completed in previous 24 hours: 31,383, with a 1.3 per cent positivity rate.
Active cases: 3,018.
Vaccinations: 20,408 doses were administered by public health units Wednesday. About 84.2 per cent of eligible Ontarians, those aged 12 and older, have now had two doses of vaccine.