Premier Doug Ford called for patience Wednesday as Ontario’s vaccine passport system went into effect, while the province reported 463 new COVID-19 cases.
Ford asked residents to respect the new verification program and be patient with businesses as they get used to the system.
“I know this may be tough for some, but we owe it to our businesses to do everything we can to avoid lockdowns,” he said.
Beginning Wednesday, patrons at dine-in restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, sports facilities and other venues must present a receipt of full vaccination along with government identification. Doctors’ notes for medical exemptions will be accepted.
Fines are possible for businesses that don’t comply with the checks required by the system, and for patrons who give false information. But businesses, bylaw officers, police forces and the province say enforcement will be gentle at first.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Ford said he knows this is a “divisive” issue, but said it’s necessary to keep the province open in the coming months.
“We can’t afford to shut down again or see a sudden surge in cases like we’re seeing in other places across the country,” Ford said.
“We will only use these certificates for as long as they are needed, and not one day longer.”
Vaccine website temporarily down Wednesday morning
Early Wednesday morning, Ontarians trying to access the province’s website for proof of COVID-19 vaccine receipts were met with an error message.
The Ministry of Health said the portal was temporarily down in the morning due to “routine maintenance, not due to demand.” Weekly maintenance is scheduled overnight on Tuesdays from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. Wednesday, and from 11 p.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has said he believes the system will lead to a boost in vaccinations, particularly among those aged 20 to 39, since that cohort often frequents venues covered by the program.
WATCH | Ford speaks about new vaccine passport system:
Since the announcement of the system on Sept.1, more than 259,000 first doses and more than 338,000 second doses have been administered, according to the Ministry of Health.
The ministry said as of Tuesday evening, a total of 66,497 COVID-19 vaccine appointments have been booked since Sept. 1. The figure does not include appointments booked through other channels such as pharmacies and local public health units using their own booking systems, it noted.
Businesses have said they feel prepared to implement the system but are uncertain how patrons will respond to it.
James Rilett, Restaurants Canada’s vice-president for Central Canada, said restaurants are “as prepared as they can be” but are expecting “some loss of business” and confrontations with some patrons.
Ryan Mallough, senior director of Ontario affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said businesses have a “decent understanding” of what’s required but there’s “some stress and anxiety around what happens in a moment that doesn’t go smoothly.”
While venues will have to check paper or digital vaccine receipts with identification at first, the province has said it aims to launch a QR code and verification app for businesses on Oct. 22 to streamline the process.
Municipalities respond to new program
Brampton mayor Patrick Brown told CBC News Network Wednesday that he is supportive of the vaccine certificate program, but is concerned about resource allocation for the city and is calling on the federal government for support.
“Starting today, we’re essentially putting this on the backs of bylaw and police with no resources associated with it so it is going to be difficult,” Brown said.
But Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie said her municipality is not anticipating a strain on its bylaw officers with the addition of the vaccine program.
“We aren’t seeing those degrees of calls to Mississauga,” Crombie said. “Our small businesses welcome this initiative.”
“I think it’s the right thing to do. My council is strongly behind it,” Crombie said. “I think at this time it protects our small businesses and protects everyone.”
Ford said Wednesday that the province has supported Brampton and other regions of the province throughout the pandemic, and will continue to do so.
The premier was also asked Wednesday about a report from province’s fiscal watchdog that found Ontario did not spend any funds from a new $2.7 billion COVID-19 response program in the first quarter, which prompted critics to question why the government didn’t use the money during the third wave.
Ford said that report was focused on a “snapshot in time.
“Make no mistake about it, we’re going to be spending every single penny of what we’ve received,” he said.
Ontario reports 7 more deaths linked to COVID-19
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 463 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths related to the illness on Wednesday.
Of the reported cases today with a known vaccination status:
278, or 60 per cent, were found in people who are unvaccinated.
21, or 4.5 per cent, had a single dose.
131, or 28.2 per cent, had two doses.
The seven-day rolling average now stands at 692.
Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health’s daily provincial update:
Tests completed in the last 24 hours: 39,092.
Provincewide test positivity rate: 1.8 per cent.
Active cases: 5,851.
Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 187, with 112 needing a ventilator to breathe.
Deaths: Seven, pushing the official toll to 9,670.
Vaccinations: 21,475,030 doses have been administered to date. Nearly 85.3 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 years or older have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 79.4 per cent have received two doses.
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