Ontario's vaccine passport system to remain through winter, COVID-19 cases expected to rise after holidays

Ontario's top doctor says the provincewide vaccine certificate system will be in place through to the winter with modelling forecasting a "disconcerting" rise in cases in January.

Province also expanding capacity limits for sporting, recreational events starting Saturday

Kevin Allen, 23, gets his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Mississauga earlier this year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's top doctor says the provincewide vaccine certificate system will be in place through at least the fall and winter, with some modelling forecasting a "significant" rise in COVID-19 cases after the holidays in January and February. 

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the projected spike in cases is "disconcerting."

Moore also announced an increase to capacity limits in several settings requiring proof of vaccination, starting Saturday.

Effective at 12:01 a.m., sporting events, meeting and event spaces, concerts, theatres, cinemas will be able to operate at 50 per cent capacity or up to 10,000 people.

At outdoor event venues where patrons stand, capacity limits will increase to up to 75 per cent capacity or 15,000 people (whichever is less). Where patrons are seated, that limit will be 75 per cent capacity or 30,000 people.

The Blue Jays will still have the option of playing indoors when wet or cold weather is an issue due to the Rogers Centre's size, ventilation and its retractable roof, Moore said.

"We're confident, even with the roof closed, given the amount of air and space that we can continue to consider it an outdoor venue," he said.

Moore called the vaccine certificate system that kicked in earlier this week a "gamechanger" for Ontario businesses, adding that it will help ensure safety as the province expands capacity for indoor and outdoor settings.

Asked about why the province isn't deploying rapid tests to schools, Moore said he has been discussing the option with Dr. Peter Jüni, director of the province's Science Advisory Table.

"It would be difficult for us to test two million children every day or twice a week or three times a week," Moore said.

"So we're trying to have a strategy where if the community rate is rising like it is in some areas in Ontario, and there are certain schools that continue to have outbreaks or high absenteeism, that's an environment where I think having a test to stay in the class ... may be very very helpful."

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 727 new cases of COVID-19, 11 more deaths linked to the illness and the most vaccinations on a single day in more than a month, the day after Ontario's new vaccine passport system went into effect

Of the 673 cases today with a known vaccination status:

  • 447, or 66 per cent, were in those unvaccinated.

  • 56, or about eight per cent, had a single dose.

  • 170, or 25 per cent, had two doses.

Public health units collectively administered 46,550 doses of vaccine on Thursday.

Just over 18,000 of those were first doses, while 28,494 were second shots.

More than 85.6 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 years or older have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 79.8 per cent have received two doses.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial update:

Newly reported school-related cases: 173; 145 students, 26 staff and two individuals who were not identified. About 750 schools, or 15 per cent of Ontario's 4,844 publicly-funded schools, currently have at least one confirmed case. No schools in the province are closed due to COVID-19.

Rolling seven-day average of cases: 655, its lowest point in nearly one month.

Tests completed in the last 24 hours: 36,855.

Provincewide test positivity rate: 1.8 per cent.

Active cases: 5,747.

Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 193, with 134 needing a ventilator to breathe.

Death toll to date: 9,688.