TORONTO — Ontario residents will soon need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter some public settings considered high-risk, including restaurants, theatres, gyms and other venues.
The province unveiled its widely anticipated vaccine certificate policy on Wednesday, which will go into effect on Sept. 22 and won't apply to essential services like health-care settings and grocery stores.
Under the new rules, individuals are considered fully vaccinated if 14 days have passed since they received the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
There will be exceptions for those with limited medical exemptions and children under 12 who can’t be vaccinated.
The move marks a significant reversal for Ford, who had publicly spoken against a vaccine passport, saying it would create a “split society.”
He said Wednesday that he changed his mind now that the province is facing a fourth wave of infections, calling the certificates necessary to protect the vulnerable and avoid another lockdown.
“This is something that I did not want to do. This is a serious step that we’re not taking lightly,” Ford told reporters.
“Let me be clear, this is a temporary tool that we won’t use for a day longer than we have to.”
Locations requiring proof of vaccination will include those that involve close contact, crowds and where people don't wear masks.
Dr. Kieran Moore, the province's top public health doctor, said more settings might be added to the list as COVID-19 trends develop.
He noted that infections and hospitalizations are rising among unvaccinated people and said a proof-of-vaccination system, similar to policies announced in British Columbia and Quebec, will help boost vaccination rates.
“It is critical that we continue to respond with assertive action to protect Ontarians,” Moore said.
At first, patrons will need to show a paper or digital receipt of vaccination along with another form of identification to gain access to spaces covered by the new rules.
On Oct. 22, the province aims to launch a QR code and verification app for businesses to streamline the process.
The policy won't apply to staff in the affected locations.
Officials said some penalties such as fines would apply to individuals and businesses that don't comply with the new policy.
Other settings that will require proof of vaccination include nightclubs, meeting and event spaces, casinos, bingo halls, music venues, strip clubs and racing venues. The rules won't apply to restaurant patios or takeout.
More than 83 per cent of Ontario residents aged 12 and older had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday and more than 76 per cent had both doses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press