by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The provincial government announced last week that it would be putting an end to the vaccine passport system, as well as capacity restrictions for all indoor settings, beginning on March 1. Mandatory vaccination requirements will therefore be lifted for all settings, though it is reported that hospitals and long term care facilities will keep the requirements to protect the most vulnerable. The vaccine passport system limits who can and cannot engage in certain activities deemed “non-essential”, such as dining indoors at a restaurant.
A press release sent to the Times quotes Ontario Premier Doug Ford as saying, “Given how well Ontario has done in the Omicron wave, we are able to fast track our reopening plan. This is great news, and a sign of just how far we’ve come together in our fight against the virus. While we aren’t out of the woods just yet, we are moving in the right direction.”
Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, added, “Thanks to the province’s high vaccination rates and the continued sacrifices of Ontarians, we are now in a position where we can move forward in our plan earlier than anticipated. With hospitalizations and ICU admissions continuing to decline, we are committed to maintaining a gradual and cautious approach to protect our hospital capacity and ensure patients can access the care they need when they need it.”
The changes will be made gradually, with the first round of loosened restrictions having already occurred on February 17. On that date, social gathering limits increased to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Seating capacity at many non-essential venues also increased to 50%, and capacity restrictions were lifted entirely for businesses which continue to require proof of vaccination until the mandate is lifted on March 1. Other changes include the gradual resumption of non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries, which began in Ontario on February 10, and the continued distribution of free rapid antigen tests in partnership with various retailers in the province.
The elimination of the vaccine passport system will take effect on March 1, though individual businesses can choose to continue requiring proof of vaccination. Indoor capacity limits will also be lifted for all businesses which still have them by this date. Mask requirements for indoor public settings will remain in place at this time, although Ford’s government has indicated that a timeline should be released in the coming weeks for when mask requirements will end. Despite speculation, Ford has strongly denied that the decision to end the vaccine passport system has anything to do with the recent trucker convoy protest movement. He has insisted that talks of lifting the passport system started well before the protest was in motion.
For more information, Ontario’s news release can be accessed at: news.ontario.ca/en/release/1001600/ontario-moving-to-next-phase-of-reopening-on-february-17.