Ottawa’s mayor and the chair of the local board of health are urging Premier Doug Ford to implement a COVID-19 vaccine certification program in hopes of staving off another economic shutdown tied to the virus.
Jim Watson and Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli co-signed a letter sent to the premier Monday morning.
Framed as a push to raise vaccination rates as high as possible, the letter cites examples from other jurisdictions in the world that saw vaccine uptake rise after a passport-like program was implemented.
With Ottawa Public Health stats showing rates of COVID-19 are 22-times higher among the city’s unvaccinated residents, Watson and Egli argue that vaccinations are the best course of action to prevent the local health-care system from being overwhelmed when school returns this fall.
“Locking down the economy and closing schools can no longer be our primary way of slowing the spread of this virus when we have the vaccine so readily available to all those who are eligible,” the pair wrote.
Sources told Global News on Friday that Ford’s cabinet has been debating such a program in recent days, with a possible announcement coming as early as this week.
Health officials in Ottawa have also expressed their support for vaccine certification programs as of late.
Across the Ottawa River in Quebec, a proof-of-vaccine program is set to go into effect on Wednesday, setting up an imbalance of policies that could affect the flow of residents between Ottawa and Gatineau.
Watson and Egli wrote that the policy gaps could have a two-fold effect on Ottawa: not only could it send the city’s residents into Gatineau for dining and other activities where they know they will be among other fully vaccinated individuals, but it could also bring Gatineau’s unvaccinated population into the nation’s capital, potentially raising the risks of exposure at Ottawa businesses.
While some businesses and event venues in Ottawa have opted to implement their own vaccine mandates for staff and patrons, Watson and Egli wrote that these operators now face the challenge of verifying vaccination statuses without a provincial standard in place.
They specifically flagged TD Place, which will require attendees to show proof of vaccine or a negative test as of Sept. 12, as a potential pain point.
Some 15,000 fans descended on the stadium on Saturday for the Ottawa Redblacks home opener — such a volume will create “significant logistical challenges” for TD Place without a standardized verification program in place, they wrote.
“I believe governments cannot continually place this burden of ensuring guests and patrons’ safety solely on the backs of our businesses — big or small, who have already been through so much in this pandemic,” the letter read.
While medical officers of health in numerous health units across the province have floated the idea of implementing regional vaccine passports, Watson and Egli said that the “simplest and most effective” way to install such a program would be through the Ontario government, which would have both the authority and the access to residents’ vaccination records through the COVAX system.
“We have reached a tipping point in our fight against COVID-19, an easily accessible proof of vaccination program could be one of the best tools we have against a fourth wave and further economic and social disruption,” they wrote.
“We humbly ask for your assistance in getting us to the finish line.”