Premier Doug Ford attempted to allay concerns about Ontario's vaccine certificate system on the eve of its implementation, saying the province needed to do all it could to keep up the fight against COVID-19.
Ford said Tuesday he knew many people were worried that the system would impede on their civil liberties, but he noted that the greater concern was experiencing a sudden surge in infections and having to lock down the province again.
"This pandemic remains an emergency and there are real-world consequences of not acting," he said in a statement.
"We need to do everything in our power to avoid future lockdowns and closures. That is why we are bringing in these exceptional measures on a temporary basis and will end them as soon as they can be responsibly removed."
Ford, who was initially opposed to vaccine certificates, announced the system earlier this month after weeks of pressure from experts, businesses and his political opponents.
Starting Wednesday, patrons at dine-in restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, sports facilities and other venues will need to present a receipt of full vaccination along with a form of government-issued identification. Doctors' notes for medical exemptions will also be accepted.
On Oct. 22, the province aims to launch a QR code and verification app for businesses to streamline the process.
Retail stores and services considered "essential,'' like grocery stores, are exempt. Children under age 12 who can't be vaccinated are also exempt, as are people under 18 entering facilities for organized sports.
The system also doesn't apply to venue staff.
Fines are on the table for businesses that don't comply with the checks required by the system, and for patrons who give false information. But businesses, by-law officers, police forces and the province say enforcement will be gentle at first, meaning much of the heavy lifting will fall to businesses’ front-line staff.
The Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday that 85.2 per cent of Ontarians over the age of 12 have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 79.2 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The province reported 574 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and eight more deaths linked to the virus. Health Minister Christine Elliott said that 434 of those cases are in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status. There were 330 people hospitalized with the virus, with 303 not fully vaccinated.