This afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his government’s plan for vaccine certification to access select settings starting September 22, 2021.
Ontario is in the midst of the fourth wave of COVID-19, driven by the Delta variant. Vaccines remain the best defence against COVID-19. While Ontario has achieved one of the best vaccination rates globally to-date and took a cautious approach to reopening, COVID-19 remains a serious threat, especially to those who remain unvaccinated. COVID-19 case counts continue to rise and the virus continues to change, requiring a shift in the plan to protect Ontarians, manage hospital capacity, and keep businesses open.
Despite initial reluctance to a vaccine certification, the government has now stated this policy is based on the best available evidence and best advice, and is a proactive approach similar to that being adopted in other jurisdictions (British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba). The approach also builds on the mandatory vaccine policy for high-risk settings, long-term care, and schools. It will also likely help to encourage eligible individuals that are not yet vaccinated to access a vaccine.
In Ontario, the general public will now need to be fully vaccinated (two doses plus 14 days) and provide proof of vaccination along with photo ID to access the following public settings and facilities:
This approach focuses on higher-risk settings (mostly indoor) where face covering cannot always be worn and does not apply to most outdoor settings where the risk of transmission is lower. Note, this will not apply to individuals who have a legitimate medical exemption or children under12. In addition, this policy does not apply to employees at these settings. It is at the discretion of the business to create such a policy, although they are encouraged to do so.
The government has also noted that the proof of vaccination policy will not prevent Ontarians from accessing essential services like food from grocery stores, medical care services or basic medical supplies.
The policy does not apply to retail settings, religious settings, museums, art galleries etc. or office settings. However, they noted that businesses can choose to use this certificate even if they are not mandated to do so.
From September 22 until October 22, Ontarians will be able to show their paper receipt or present an electronic copy of their PDF receipt for visual verification along with identification. On October 22, Ontario will introduce an enhanced digital vaccine receipt that will feature a QR code.Individuals will present the QR code on their phone or in paper along with identification. Businesses and organizations will have access to a free verification app that will scan and verify proof of vaccine receipt, reducing the burden on businesses to interpret information presented. It will also protect individuals’ privacy by presenting a yes or no answer based on provincial guidelines and information will not be stored on the reader.
A recent negative COVID-19 test, or recent COVID-19 infection will not entitle a person to enter these settings requiring proof of vaccination. However, there is a limited time exception (between September 22 and October 12, 2021) for people attending wedding or funeral receptions at meeting or event spaces. They will be able to provide a negative rapid antigen test result from no more than 48 hours before the event as an alternative to proof of vaccination.
Enforcement will be under the Reopening Ontario Act and will be conducted by by-law officers and Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspectors. It will be progressive beginning with education and warnings.
Ontario will maintain the current capacity limits in settings since implementation of this policy is separate from capacity limits. Ontario will continue to monitor the data and best available evidence and may revisit capacity limits in the future.
Proof of vaccination is not intended to be permanent, but no date has been set for sunsetting. The proof of vaccination requirement will be tied to the progression of COVID and the data.
In addition, we want to note that yesterday, the Ontario government said it will extend its paid sick leave program due to the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19. The program was supposed to end September 25 but has now been extended to December 31.
More clarity will be forthcoming about the proof of vaccination in the regulations and guidance documents. We will continue to monitor this and provide more clarity when it becomes available.
Happy to Help
Sussex would be happy to work with and support any clients or sectors who might need greater clarity around proof of vaccination, and the government’s continued response to the COVID pandemic.