Ontario’s vaccine verification app for businesses, Verify Ontario, appears to be ready for download ahead of schedule, rolling out on the Google and Apple app stores Thursday afternoon.
According to its description, the app gives businesses and organizations the ability to scan the QR codes on province-issued vaccine certificates. After the code is scanned, a green checkmark will appear indicating a valid vaccine certificate, a red X for an invalid certificate or a yellow warning for a QR that cannot be read.
The province had said it would release a digital verification app by Oct. 22, giving people a “safer, more secure and convenient” way to demonstrate that they’ve been vaccinated, according to the province.
“To ensure the app was available to businesses and organizations in real time tomorrow, the verification app was added to app stores today,” Premier Doug Ford’s press secretary Ivana Yelich said Thursday.
Ontarians still have the option of using paper vaccine receipts to prove their vaccination status.
The app description says it also scans most government-issued QR codes from B.C. and Quebec, and that nation-wide capabilities are “in development.”
It also says it does not request users’s specific locations or collect information linking visitors, businesses or locations together.
Ford is set to speak about the enhanced vaccine certificate and verification app Friday morning.
Meanwhile, the province reported 417 new cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of three more people with the illness on Thursday.
Too soon to know impact of Thanksgiving weekend
The number of people being treated for COVID-related sickness in the province’s intensive care units ticked upward to 158 from 153, a second day of increases. About 64 per cent of those patients needed ventilators.
Critical Care Services Ontario says 13 adults with COVID-related symptoms were admitted to ICUs on Wednesday, and the seven-day average of COVID-19 patients in ICUs stands at 153.
Meanwhile, the consistent decline in new cases that began around Sept. 5 continued with today’s figures. The seven-day average of daily cases fell to 476, its lowest point since mid-August.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Moore said it’s too early to know the impact of the Thanksgiving weekend on the province’s COVID numbers, but said he hopes the numbers will remain on the low end, pointing to the upcoming Diwali and Christmas seasons.
The numbers come after CBC News first reported that the Ontario government will announce plans next week to exit the ‘Roadmap to Reopen.’ The further easing of pandemic measures will include ending capacity limits in all locations where proof-of-vaccination requirements are in place, such as restaurants, bars and gyms, a senior official in the government said Wednesday.
Moore said the province will take a “slow and steady” approach based on the advice of public health, which is working on a reopening schedule that will be delivered to the government next week.
He said there are three major benchmarks he’s looking at on determining when to lift public health restrictions. Those include the number of daily cases and whether or not they’re increasing or decreasing; hospitalization levels, including the number of patients in intensive care, and the daily test positivity rate.
“Right now those metrics look very good,” Moore said, reminding that his plan is to lift restrictions “cautiously.”
The province’s proof-of-vaccination system will likely end as a “phased removal” as some parts of the province are faring better than others.
“We may not require them in some, but still require them in others, large venues, requiring masking,” Moore said.
He added that it’s unlikely the province will remove process “suddenly.”
Regarding capacity limits in restaurants, cafes, and bars, Moore said once the data from Thanksgiving weekend is reviewed, he’ll be able to make a recommendation to further reopen those businesses and increase or lift limits.
When asked why Scotiabank Arena was allowed to open to full capacity at 20,000 people while restaurants are still under capacity limits, Moore said the risk is different, and the province needs to assess more data.
“[Scotiabank Arena is] one space where you’re having appropriate screening, cleaning, vaccine management, good ventilation as compared to those 20,000 [people] spread across multiple different establishments,” Moore said.
He added the “business sector will get greater clarity next week.”
Province should wait at least 3 weeks between steps: expert
The official declined to say when the relaxed measures will take effect. Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said that will be a key element of the plan.
In an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Thursday, Jüni said the province should wait at least three weeks before making further changes. That’s because the government announced last Friday that it was lifting capacity limits on some major venues while continuing to impose restrictions on smaller businesses, a move that Jüni called “an experiment.
“The point is, now, that nobody knows how that will impact the pandemic. We should wait three weeks to figure out what’s happening, and then do the next step. But I know the pressure is very high,” he said.
The policy change was immediately questioned by small business groups, like the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Critics called on the province to explain its reasoning, saying businesses like restaurants, gyms, yoga and dance studios, swimming and martial arts venues, and bowling alleys continue to see their customer capacity restricted to 50 per cent. Similarly, restaurants need to maintain two metres of physical distance between tables.
Jüni said he’d like to see the government wait until any potential impacts of the capacity changes for major venues to show up in pandemic data. He added that he has particular concerns about lifting distancing measures in restaurants.
Ontario is not currently experiencing exponential growth in new cases.
“We are in a place right now where, if we don’t get ahead ourselves and just continue to do what we’ve been doing — keep masking and have the vaccine certificates in place — all of this could work out really well. But we need to be ready that things could change very swiftly.”
If new cases were to start doubling every eight or nine days, that would be an indication that capacity limits may need to be reimposed in some settings, Jüni said.
Forecasting is complicated by the impending arrival of winter, he added. It is difficult to project how the current level of vaccination coverage in Ontario, nearly 83 per cent of all those 12 and older, could work to counteract people spending more time indoors, he said.
126 new school-related cases reported
Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health’s daily provincial update:
New school-related cases: 126. About 93 per cent were students. Four of the 4,844 publicly-funded schools in Ontario are closed due to COVID-19.
Tests completed in the last 24 hours: 35,421, with a positivity rate of 1.5 per cent.
Active cases: 4,022, with roughly one-third associated with the public school system.
Vaccinations: 28,756 doses were administered by public health units on Wednesday. For a second day, more than 10,000 of those were first shots.