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Omicron COVID-19 Variant: Ontario Enhances Public Health Measures

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With new COVID-19 cases touching over a thousand per day and the threat of the new variant looming, Ontario has announced a slew of enhanced public health measures.

The province has now delayed its initial plan to lift proof of vaccination requirement from certain settings by mid-January 2022. The new steps announced on December 10, 2021, seek to reduce the risk of transmission during the holiday season, especially with the risk of the highly infectious Omicron variant becoming the dominant strain.

Proof of vaccination requirements

Starting January 4, 2022, Ontarians will have to show the enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code in settings where proof of vaccination is required. The QR code can be downloaded here and displayed digitally or by printing a hard copy.

From December 20, 2021, youth aged 12 to 17, will be required to show proof of vaccination to be able to participate in organized sports at recreational facilities.

Ontario is also strengthening the verification process for those unvaccinated due to medical exemptions. Starting December 15, 2021, the province will introduce enhanced vaccine certificate with QR code for those with an eligible medical exemption or those part of an active, Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.

Businesses and organizations required to ask for proof of vaccination are advised to no longer accept physician notes for vaccine exemptions from January 10, 2022.

Booster shots

The province had earlier announced that Ontarians aged 50 and above will be able to book their booster dose appointments through the COVID-19 vaccination portal from December 13, 2021.

From January 4, 2022, those 18 and above will also be eligible to schedule their booster dose provided it has been approximately six months (168 days) since their second dose. People will be able to book their appointments through the COVID-19 vaccination portal, by phoning the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, select pharmacies and primary care settings.

Increased rapid testing

The province is also increasing its efforts to further ramp up rapid testing.

Ontario is increasing rapid antigen testing guidance for schools to start threshold-based rapid antigen testing in school settings when they reopen in January.

Rapid antigen testing will also increase for high-risk congregate settings to protect vulnerable populations. This would increase antigen testing for all employees, caregivers, and visitors to long-term care homes, irrespective of their vaccination status, who have travelled outside of Canada.

Ontario will also be launching a holiday testing blitz for asymptomatic people. Under this initiative, the province will make available two million rapid tests free of charge at pop-up testing sites in settings that see high footfalls such as malls, retail stores, transit stations.

Public health measures

The Chief Medical Officer of Health has advised Ontarians, especially those unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, to restrict their social gatherings over the festive season.

It is also recommended that people wear a face covering and physically distance when around people who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or if their vaccination status is unknown.

Employers are advised to let their staff work from home whenever possible.

Health and safety inspections

Workplace health and safety inspections will continue as well. Provincial Offences officers are expected to visit businesses to ensure they are following provincial regulations and COVID-19 health and safety requirements.

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