Major changes are coming to all gyms, restaurants and theatres across Ontario.
Beginning Sept. 22, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required to access non-essential businesses in Ontario, including gyms, indoor restaurants, movie theatres and concert halls, under the province’s new vaccine certification program.
However, officials said that a certificate would not be needed for retail shopping, salons, banks, places of worship, essential services, workplaces, patios, and other outdoor spaces.
Chatham-Kent Medical officer of Health Dr. David Colby, said he is a fan of the vaccine passport but wishes it applied to staff working in restaurants, gymnasiums and sports venues.
“I would like to see it extended to include the staff,” said Colby.
He added that locally, he has the power to issue a directive or a class order.
“The government’s position was stated yesterday. Under the Reopening Ontario Act, all businesses must come up with a vaccine strategy and policy. I think they believe those policies that they have to have for staff will be enough to provide that coverage. It’s pretty early yet; we’ll have to see how this actually shakes down,” added Colby.
The new rules will also not apply to children under the age of 12 and people with medical exemptions.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Sept. 1, saying the certificate is necessary to keep non-essential businesses and facilities open as the Delta variant continues to cause havoc during a fourth COVID-19 wave.
According to Ford, there were two options.
“We either do this, or we risk shutting down the economy, which would even be worse, having our hospital capacity maxed out and at the brink, having our kids stay at home, our college and university kids going back online. That is what we are trying to avoid,” said Ford.
Eligible people will need to be fully vaccinated with two doses and have a provincial certificate to visit casinos, bingo halls, concert venues, theatres, cinemas, sporting facilities and events, banquet halls, convention centres, and to eat at indoor food and drink establishments.
He added that enforcement led by bylaw officers would be reasonable and rely on individuals and businesses to do the right thing.
“We need to protect our hospitals; we need to avoid lockdowns at all costs. We want our kids in schools and our businesses to stay open,” said Ford.
At first, fully vaccinated Ontarians, meaning having had two doses, with the most recent at least 14 days prior, will need their current receipt with valid photo identification to enter premises covered under the new system.
The receipts can be printed or downloaded as a PDF file to smartphones. According to the government, neither a recent COVID-19 infection nor a recent negative test will substitute for two shots.
At the entrance of applicable businesses, residents will need to show the receipt alongside government-issued photo identification. As it stands, it will be visually verified by the venues and organizations.
“This is a temporary tool that we won’t use any longer than we have to, but I know that this is what we have to do right now in the face of the fourth wave because these certificates are necessary to keep our hospitals safe and to avoid another lockdown,” said Ford.
The province said detailed guidance would be provided to businesses on how to implement the vaccine certificate program in advance of Sept. 22.
The government also announced that on Oct. 22, it would shift to certificates that include QR codes that contain much of the same information included on the receipts that are already available. That shift will be accompanied by the release of a “verification app” that can be used to validate the QR codes and provide the vaccination status of an individual.
Officials said that the app’s purpose is to relieve businesses and facilities of having to determine whether a patron has been vaccinated or not
Additionally, the government announced in the coming weeks the province would work to establish a process to prove vaccination status for people with no e-mail, health card or ID, as well as support the implementation of vaccine certificates for Indigenous communities.
“We need to be proactive to avoid reactive closures,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.
He and Colby added they are optimistic this will be an incentive for people to get vaccinated.
According to the province, unvaccinated individuals are seven times more likely to get a symptomatic infection, 27 times more likely to end up in the hospital, and 42 times more likely to end up in intensive care.
Officials added that for individuals and businesses who do not comply with the program, fines would be issued under the Reopening Ontario Act.
The fine will vary depending on the offence, but individuals could face tickets of approximately $750, while businesses may be hit with tickets in excess of $1,000 for non-compliance.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News