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Ontario News Release: Ontario Taking Action to Protect Against Omicron Variant

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FROM THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT NEWSROOM:

TORONTO —The Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, is taking action to further encourage vaccination and help limit the spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. These measures will help reduce the risk of transmission during the winter months and further encourage every eligible Ontarian to get their shot so that Ontario’s hospital capacity is protected.

“As we continue to learn more about the Omicron variant, we are taking additional measures to protect our progress as we head into the winter months,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “Getting vaccinated and adhering to public health and workplace safety measures will continue to protect us and our loved ones against COVID and variants, but we won’t hesitate to continue to take swift action to ensure the continued health and safety of all Ontarians.”

Ontario’s weekly cases incidence rate is below the national average, and recent investments combined with high vaccination rates have meant hospital and intensive care unit capacity remains stable. In line with Ontario’s cautious approach throughout the pandemic and in light of evolving global evidence around the Omicron variant, the province is adjusting its COVID-19 response that will strengthen the province’s proof of vaccination requirements and enhance public health measures. This includes the following measures:

  • Delaying the lifting of proof of vaccination requirements beyond January 17, 2022, aligned with the reopening plan that stipulated that doing so was contingent on the absence of concerning trends.
  • Effective January 4, 2022, requiring the use of the enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code and the Verify Ontario app in settings where proof of vaccination is required. The QR code can be used digitally or by printing a paper copy. Individuals can download their enhanced certificate with QR code by visiting https://covid-19.ontario.ca/book-vaccine/.
  • Strengthening the verification process for medical exemptions and clinical trial exemptions by requiring a certificate with a QR code. Organizations and businesses that are under the provincial proof-of-vaccination system will be advised to no longer accept physician notes as of January 10, 2022.
  • Effective December 20, 2021, requiring proof of vaccination for youth aged 12 to 17 years participating in organized sports at recreational facilities.
  • On the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Ontarians are strongly advised to limit their social gatherings and the number of gatherings they attend over the holiday season. Additional precautions should be taken if all individuals are not fully vaccinated or where vaccination status is unknown. Employers in all industries should make every effort to allow employees to work from home.

The full suite of measures is outlined in the backgrounder.

To continue providing an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 and variants, as part of its enhanced winter testing strategy the province is launching a holiday testing blitz next week to offer voluntary rapid antigen screening to asymptomatic individuals free of charge. Two million rapid tests will be provided at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings such as malls, retail settings, holiday markets and transit hubs.

In addition, starting on Monday, December 13, 2021 at 8:00 a.m., individuals aged 50 and over will be eligible to schedule their booster dose appointment. This will expand booster eligibility to approximately 5.5 million people. Expanded booster dose eligibility to all Ontarians 18 years of age and older will occur on January 4, 2022, with appointments to be booked approximately six months after receiving a second dose.

“Ontario, like other jurisdictions around the world, is seeing concerning trends in public health and health care indicators, and additional measures are required to protect our progress for the long-term,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “All Ontarians are strongly urged to follow these and existing measures and get vaccinated with a first, second or booster dose if you have not done so already. These are the layers that are protecting everyone. By taking these actions, we can help to reduce the mobility of COVID-19 and its variants, protect public health and health system capacity and save lives. This is especially important as we enter the holiday season and spend more time with family and friends. We need to keep each other safe.”

The COVID-19 vaccine remains the single best protection against COVID-19 and variants. Every eligible Ontarian is strongly recommended to get vaccinated or receive their booster if they are eligible as soon as possible.

 

Quick Facts

  • On December 7, 2021, Ontario extended its pause on the lifting of capacity limits in remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required.
  • As of December 13, approximately 5.5 million Ontarians age 50 and over are eligible to receive a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Ontarians are encouraged to book their appointment as soon as possible.
  • Children aged five to 11 are eligible to book their appointment to receive the paediatric COVID-19 vaccine. To get answers to their questions, parents, caregivers and children are encouraged to call the Provincial Vaccine Confidence Line that can be accessed by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900, or visit COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service to book a confidential phone appointment with a SickKids clinician.
  • The enhanced vaccine certificate with official QR code and the free, made-in Ontario Verify Ontario app make it easier, more secure and convenient for individuals to provide proof of vaccination where required to do so. As of December 10, 2021, almost 11 million enhanced certificates with QR codes have been downloaded through the COVID-19 vaccination portal and there have been more than 1.4 million downloads of the Verify Ontario app.
  • As of December 9, 2021, Ontario over 90 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and over having received at least one dose and more than 87 per cent have received a second dose. Over 25 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received their first dose.
  • Local medical officers of health continue to have the ability to issue advice, recommendations or instructions under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (ROA) as well as Section 22 orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, and municipalities may enact by-laws, to target specific transmission risks in the community.
 

Additional Resources

 

Media Contacts

Alexandra Hilkene
Minister Elliott’s Office
[email protected]

Anna Miller
Communications Division
[email protected]
416-314-6197

BACKGROUNDER:

The Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, is introducing several measures that will strengthen the province’s proof of vaccination requirements and enhance public health measures. Together these actions will help reduce the risk of transmission during the winter months and further encourage every eligible Ontarian to get their shot so that Ontario’s hospital capacity is protected.

Enhancing Proof of Vaccination Requirements

In line with Ontario’s cautious approach to reopening, and as global data on the Omicron variant continues to evolve, the province will be delaying the lifting of proof of vaccination requirements beyond January 17, 2022 as the province continues to monitor public health trends.

In addition, effective January 4, 2022, Ontario will begin requiring the use of the enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code and the Verify Ontario app in settings where proof of vaccination is required.

The QR code can be used digitally or by printing a paper copy. Individuals can download here their enhanced certificate with QR code. Individuals can visit their local library or can call the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900 to have their vaccine certificate mailed to them. They can also visit a Service Ontario centre to receive a printed copy.

Starting on December 20, 2021, Ontario will also begin requiring proof of vaccination for youth aged 12 to 17 years of age participating in organized sports at recreational facilities.

Strengthening the verification of medical or clinical trial exemptions

Starting on December 15, 2021, Ontario will begin a new process to provide an enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate with QR code for individuals who have an eligible medical exemption or are participating in an active, Health Canada Approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.

To obtain an enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code, individuals who have an eligible medical exemption must ask an Ontario physician or registered nurse in the extended class to submit their exemption directly to the public health unit where the issuer’s practice is located.

The vaccine trial Principal Investigator for a Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial can submit an exemption, with the written or verbal consent of the trial participant, directly to the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre.

Once an individual’s exemption is reviewed and entered into COVaxON by the public health unit, they will be able to access their enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code through the COVID-19 vaccination portal.

Medical exemptions issued outside of Ontario are not eligible for an enhanced vaccine certificate. This new process will help combat fraud, offer greater protection of personal health information, and ease burden on businesses.

Organizations and businesses that are required to take part in Ontario’s proof-of-vaccination system will be advised to longer accept physician notes beginning January 10, 2022.

Providing Additional Layers of Protection against COVID-19 and Variants

The province continues to roll out booster doses to eligible Ontarians as an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 and variants.

As of December 13, approximately 5.5 million Ontarians aged 50 and over will be eligible to receive their booster dose appointment if approximately six months have passed after their second dose.

Starting on Tuesday, January 4, 2022 at 8:00 a.m., individuals aged 18 and over will be eligible to schedule their booster dose appointment through the COVID-19 vaccination portal, by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, select pharmacies and primary care settings. Appointments will be booked for approximately six months (168 days) after a second dose.

As of December 6, Ontario has distributed over 34 million rapid tests to thousands of workplaces, hospitals, home and community care settings, long-term care homes, and schools and childcare centres across the province. Ontario has also procured an additional 11 million rapid tests for every single public-school student learning in-person ahead of the December break to add an additional layer of protection over the holiday period and as students return to school in January.

The province is also increasing rapid antigen testing for high-risk congregate settings to protect the most vulnerable populations, including antigen testing for all staff, essential caregivers and visitors to LTC homes, regardless of vaccination status, who have travelled to any country outside of Canada (including the US) prior to entering a home.

In addition, Ontario is strengthening rapid antigen testing guidance for schools to initiate threshold-based rapid antigen testing in school settings, effective on the return to school in January. Public education videos are available to support usage of the rapid antigen screening kits and the at-home PCR self-collection COVID-19 testing for students. They will be available on December 13 in English, French and in 15 additional languages.

To continue providing an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 and variants, as part of its enhanced winter testing strategy, the province is launching a holiday testing blitz offering voluntary rapid antigen screening to asymptomatic individuals free of charge. Two million rapid tests will be provided at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings such as malls, retail settings, holiday markets, and transit hubs.

Ontario continues to look for opportunities to expand access to rapid testing for all Ontarians. With an increased demand for rapid tests and globally constrained supply, the province is continuing to urge the federal government to increase the number of approved rapid tests available for use in Ontario and across the country.

Strengthening Public Health and Workplace Safety Measures

On the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Ontarians, in particular unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals, are strongly advised to limit their social gatherings and the number of gatherings they attend, especially over the holiday season. They should also wear a face covering and physically distance if individuals in attendance are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or their vaccination status is unknown.

Employers are advised to allow their employees to work from home whenever possible.

As part of multi-faceted approach to prevention, and to ensure proper Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures are in place, all health care settings will be required to conduct IPAC self-audits and updated guidance on ventilation will be released to ensure standards are met. Ontario will also be building on critical investments made in Infection Prevention and Control by mobilizing the IPAC Hubs to assess and support readiness in congregate settings.

To further support case and contact management, additional staff are being hired to ensure capacity in the event of case surges.

From September 22, 2021 (when proof of vaccination requirements came into effect) to December 6, 2021, Provincial Offences officers have completed 8,333 visits to businesses and organizations across the province to raise awareness of the COVID-19 Safety requirements.

Provincial Offences officers will continue visiting restaurants, recreational facilities, and other businesses or organizations where patrons are required to provide proof of vaccination prior to entry to ensure businesses understand their obligations on how to implement proof of vaccination processes and to ensure they are following all other public safety requirements outlined in the Re-Opening Ontario Act. Provincial officers have been taking an education-first approach to enforcement that is in line with the province’s response throughout the pandemic. The expectation is that all businesses follow COVID-19 health and safety requirements. The goal of these visits is to help workers and the public stay safe, and to keep businesses open.



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