Ontario’s health minister says the province is “not in the clear” to remove COVID-19 vaccine passports that are required to enter some indoor public settings such as gyms and restaurants or to drop the mask mandate.
Christine Elliott made the comments at a press conference announcing free rapid tests, after she was pressed several times by journalists if Ontario would consider dropping the vaccine passport as Saskatchewan and Alberta recently announced.
“We still need to be very careful,” Elliott said.
“We are not telling the people of Ontario that this is going to remain in place forever. No. But we are not in the clear, just yet, and so we need to continue to protect Ontarians, protect each other with the passports and with the masks at this point.”
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan was the first province to announce it wound be ending the use of COVID-19 vaccine passports beginning on Feb. 14, with facemasks in indoor public settings to lift by end of February.
Alberta then followed by announcing its COVID-19 vaccine passport program would end first thing Wednesday. Almost all public health restrictions would be lifted by March 1 — including masking — if hospitalizations continue to improve.
“We have no plans, currently, to drop the passport vaccination situation or masking,” Elliot said. “We always said that we were going to take a very cautious, phased, prudent approach to opening up and that’s the path that we’re going to follow.”
On Wednesday, Ontario reported another drop in hospitalizations with 2,059 people with COVID in hospitals with 449 in intensive care units. This is down from a week ago at 2,939 hospitalizations with 555 in ICU. Case counts, test positivity and wastewater signal have also been on the downward trend, Elliott said.
“The trends are going in a good direction now but we can’t sit back on our laurels and assume that’s going to always continue,” Elliott said. “Omicron is highly transmissible. We have the variant, the BA.2, in some parts of Ontario as well, while it doesn’t appear as if its going to be more dangerous variant than Omicron it certainly appears to be more transmissible.”
In Ontario’s three-phase reopening plan that stretches into mid-March, proof of vaccination and masking are two public health measures that remain in place as capacity limits widen and more businesses reopen.
Ontario residents are required to show their proof of vaccination certificate with a scannable QR code in order to get into some settings such as gyms, restaurants, and theatres.