Ontario to remove vaccine passport system on March 1, masking requirements to remain in place
All capacity limits in restaurants, bars, cinemas and gyms will be lifted on Thursday
The Ontario government will remove its proof of vaccination system on March 1, and is moving up the second phase of its COVID-19 reopening plan to Thursday.
The province said in a news release on Monday that, despite removing the vaccine passport system, businesses and other settings may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination.
Masking requirements will remain in place at this time.
All capacity limits in restaurants, bars, cinemas and gyms will be lifted on Thursday, a move that was set to take effect on Feb. 21.
"Like all of you I've waited a long time for this news, but please never doubt that the steps we took together, as difficult as they were, were absolutely necessary and saved tens of thousands of lives," Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference Monday morning.
Ford said the removal of these public health measures has "always been our objective.
"The extraordinary measures that we introduced during this pandemic were always intended as a last resort. I stood at this very podium and promised you that these tools would only be used for as long as they were absolutely necessary and not one day longer," Ford said.
WATCH | Ontario easing restrictions:
He said with hospitalizations continuing on a downward trend, the province will not need to require three doses of vaccine in any sort of passport system.
"I think we're going in the right direction, and I'm confident if we keep going down this path, there won't be a reason for it," he said.
A vaccine mandate for staff and visitors in long-term care homes will remain in place, Ford said.
'Unstable and unpredictable'
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said proof of vaccination, which was first implemented in the province in September, has "served its purpose."
"We have the level of protection we need to remove public health restrictions," Moore said at the news conference.
Starting Thursday capacity limits will be removed at a host of indoor settings where proof of vaccination is required, including:
- Restaurants, bars and other food establishments without dancing.
- Retailers, including shopping malls.
- Gyms and non-spectator areas of sports facilities.
- Movie theatres.
- Meeting and event spaces.
- Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos and similar attractions.
- Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.
- Religious services, rites and ceremonies.
As well, social gathering limits will increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Organized public events will be capped at 50 people indoors, with no limit outdoors.
Capacity limits at sports arenas, concert venues and theatres meanwhile will be capped at 50 per cent.
The announcement is "positive news" for businesses in the province who have been largely impacted by the restrictions, said the president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Rocco Rossi.
"The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have created an unstable and unpredictable environment for Ontario business," Rossi said in a statement.
"The plan to reduce restrictions will only be successful if it is accompanied by the necessary measures to support business predictability, build public confidence and sustain the re-opening."
The province also announced that youth aged 12 to 17 can book booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as of 8 a.m. on Friday.
At the news conference, Ford said the decision to further ease public health measures was not a result of pressure from the protests in Windsor and Ottawa.
The premier declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to convoy protests against public health measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
"Today's announcement is not because of what's happening in Ottawa or Windsor but despite it," Ford said.
"We're moving forward as a province and a country, and this chaos is not going to be tolerated, I promise you that."
WATCH | Plan in the works before protests:
But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said vaccine passports are not a restriction, unless you're not vaccinated.
"Ending vaccine certificates is risky, and scary — for seniors, parents whose little ones are too young to get the shot and everyday folks who want to know that the person on the treadmill next to them at the gym or eating across from them at the diner are vaccinated," Horwath said in a statement following Ford's announcement.
"The only people asking for passports to be cancelled are anti-vaxxers and occupiers. The request to scrap vaccine certificates isn't coming from small businesses, health care experts, or working people. This is Doug Ford caving to anti-vax politics," she said.
Meanwhile, the province reported 1,369 hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 on Monday, with 394 people in intensive care.
That's down from the 1,540 hospitalizations and 402 ICU patients reported Sunday, though not all hospitals share data on weekends.
The province also reported eight more deaths linked to COVID-19, pushing the official death toll to 12,101.
Nearly 31.3 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 89.4 per cent of Ontarians five years and over having one dose and 85 per cent having two doses.