On September 1, 2021, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health (“CMOH”), announced that individuals will have to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status in order to access select settings and businesses effective September 22, 2021. “Fully vaccinated” is defined as two doses plus 14 days.
The settings and businesses for which proof of full vaccination will be required for access are certain higher-risk indoor public settings where face coverings cannot always be worn, including:
- Restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, delivery and takeout);
- Nightclubs (including outdoor areas);
- Meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls and conference/convention centres;
- Facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities (excluding youth recreational sport);
- Sporting events;
- Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments;
- Concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas;
- Strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs;
- Racing venues (e.g., horse racing).
These new mandatory requirements will not apply to outdoor settings with a lower risk of transmission, including patios, but they will apply to outdoor nightclub spaces. In addition, these new requirements will not apply to settings where individuals receive medical care, food from grocery stores, medical supplies, and other such places. Indoor masking policies will continue to remain in place.
Currently, Ontarians have access to PDF or paper vaccine receipts provided after vaccination. Starting September 22, 2021, individuals will have to show their vaccine receipt along with photo identification when entering certain settings and businesses.
Those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons will be able to access designated spaces with a doctor’s note until the digital vaccine certificate can incorporate recognized medical exemptions.
It should be noted that these requirements do not apply to employees. During the press conference on the new requirements, the CMOH indicated that employers can introduce an immunization policy for their employees. He also pointed to the continued use of other COVID-19-related measures in the workplace, such as screening tools.
From September 22 to October 12, 2021, those attending wedding or funeral receptions at meeting or event spaces will be permitted to provide a negative result from no more than 48 hours before the event, from a privately purchased rapid antigen test (rapid test), as an alternative to proof of vaccination.
The government has also announced that on October 22, 2021, it will introduce an “enhanced digital vaccine receipt” with a QR code, which can be kept on a phone to be shown when needed. Additionally, businesses will be provided with an app to read and verify the validity of the digital vaccine receipt while protecting the individual’s privacy. The province will establish alternative tools for individuals with no email, health card, or ID. Vaccine certificates for Indigenous communities will be developed while maintaining Indigenous data governance, control, access and possession principles.
In Our View
The new vaccine certificate requirement is being implemented as a public policy measure to encourage vaccination, and to discourage the spread of the virus in high-risk settings. However, a number of settings do not appear to be included in the announced list, such as retail stores, salons and barbershops, and religious gathering spaces.
Additionally, the announced requirements do not apply to employees. As discussed in previous Focus Alerts, the government has issued Directives regarding vaccine policies for certain sectors, such as long-term care homes and certain high-risk settings. It has also laid the groundwork to require businesses to put vaccine policies in place. However, the omission of staff from the requirements of the announced vaccine certificate system leaves many employers bearing the risk and responsibility of determining whether or not to implement a mandatory vaccine policy for their employees.
On that note, on September 2, 2021, Ottawa Public Health indicated that it “strongly recommends businesses and employers develop and implement workplace vaccination policies for their employees and workforce, and that all those eligible receive a complete series of the COVID-19 vaccine.” It has released a guide on how to develop and implement such policies, which we will discuss in further detail in a separate Focus Alert.
Additionally, the CMOH has recently released instructions regarding the implementation of mandatory vaccination policies for staff, contractors, volunteers, and students in certain sectors, such as post-secondary education, licensed retirement homes, Children’s Treatment Centres, and certain organizations funded by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. A Focus Alert discussing these Instructions in greater detail will be released in the coming days.
Employers are likely to have to train staff at the entrances to designated settings to screen individuals in accordance with government requirements before permitting entry. Employers will have to remain up to date with the development of the screening app, and any further requirements that may apply to them with respect to vaccination of staff and others who access the employer’s premises.
We will continue to monitor this evolving issue and share further developments with Focus readers.