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Critics call for haste on Ontario vaccine certificates as government develops policy


TORONTO — Ontario’s delay in announcing details of its planned proof-of-vaccination system drew criticism on Tuesday that the drawn-out process was interfering with public health goals during the fourth wave of the pandemic. 

Government sources had told The Canadian Press that an announcement was expected early this week for the new policy that would limit access to some non-essential services based on COVID-19 vaccination status. 

Business and health-worker groups, municipalities and local public health officials in Ontario have repeatedly called for a vaccine certificate policy, similar to those announced for British Columbia and Quebec.

But by Tuesday afternoon the hotly anticipated announcement had not been scheduled, prompting the province’s top public health doctor to cancel his weekly COVID-19 briefing.

Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath accused Premier Doug Ford of dragging his feet on the issue and putting Ontario "in a dangerous position" as it heads into the fourth wave of the pandemic.

"Now instead of listening to the experts, small businesses, and everyday Ontarians, the Ford government is wasting more precious time bickering about the politics of this public health decision in cabinet," the NDP leader said in a statement.  "Today we’re seeing Mr. Ford's refusal to take action cause even more damage, by getting in the way of the chief medical officer of health giving Ontarians vital information on the pandemic.” 

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said it was "completely unacceptable" that work on the policy was still ongoing just before schools and post-secondary campuses were to reopen for classes. 

"Quebec has done it. British Columbia has done it. Surely Ontario can get it done too,” he said. 

A proof-of-vaccination policy would mark a significant reversal for Ford. The Progressive Conservative premier had previously rejected the idea, saying it would create a "split society." 

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau singled out Ford last week for not mandating vaccines in non-essential settings, and promised $1 billion from a re-elected Liberal government for provinces to implement vaccine passport systems.

The group of scientists advising Ontario on the pandemic have said vaccine certificates would allow high-risk settings to reopen with greater capacity, and would help reintroduce public health measures if needed.  

Last week, top officials at Ontario public health units said they were considering regional vaccine certificates in the absence of a provincial system. 

A national doctors' group highlighted that comment in a Tuesday statement raising concern over the lack of federal consistency on vaccine certificates.

The Canadian Medical Association called on all levels of government "to make the necessary commitments to ensure current and future vaccine certificate programs are interoperable across jurisdictions."

Katharine Smart, president of the organization, pointed to the absence of a provincial system in Ontario that has left health units to consider taking up the task. 

"While it is commendable that various organizations are moving proactively to counter the threat posed by the Delta variant, we worry this approach will create an even more complex and inconsistent patchwork of rules, creating confusion for those it’s intended to support,” Smart said in a statement.  

The highly infectious Delta variant made up an estimated 99 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario as of Tuesday, according to the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. 

Daily infections have risen in recent weeks since dropping earlier in the summer, despite relatively high vaccination rates in the province - 76 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have been fully vaccinated.

Ontario reported 525 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with most of them among people not vaccinated or with unknown vaccination status. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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