Ontario's top doctor cancels weekly COVID-19 briefing amid vaccine passport deliberations

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health has cancelled his weekly briefing amid lingering discussions by the provincial cabinet over the possible implementation of some sort of COVID-19 vaccine passport system.

A spokesperson for Ontario Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott issued a statement Tuesday afternoon nearly two hours before Dr. Kieran Moore was scheduled to provide his regular Tuesday afternoon update on the provincial COVID-19 response as well as a general overview of the pandemic.

The statement said it was cancelled at Moore’s request due to “the government’s ongoing work on a proof of vaccination certificate.”

A government source not authorized to speak publicly told Global News on Friday that members of Ford’s cabinet were considering a proposal.

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The source said a final decision hadn’t been made and that there was no consensus yet. At the time, they said some cabinet members were opposed to a vaccine passport.

Those who Global News spoke with indicated an announcement could have been made as soon as Tuesday. However, as of Tuesday afternoon, there wasn’t a firm indication of when details would be shared with the public.

Premier Doug Ford previously and repeatedly said he did not want to make vaccines mandatory, citing human rights violations and that it would create a “split society.” Both he and cabinet ministers have punted the issue to the federal government.

However, Ford hasn’t had a public media availability in the Greater Toronto Area in several weeks in order for reporters to ask questions surrounding the status of such an initiative.

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During a news conference Tuesday morning calling for the creation of “public health safety zones” to combat organized protests over COVID-19 vaccines and protocols, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath once again pushed the government to release details on a passport program.

“Well I guess we could have a conversation if anybody can find , but nobody can find the guy,” she said when asked if the party heard from the government on her proposal or vaccine passports.

“So hopefully he gets in here soon and starts acting like a premier and putting in place the things Ontarians need to avoid what everybody is saying is going to be a pretty brutal fall … all of the predictions are this fourth wave is going to be pretty ugly.”

There have been mounting calls by local medical officers across Ontario for a provincewide COVID-19 vaccine certificate system when it comes to providing proof of inoculation to employers, for events or to gain entrance inside non-essential businesses. Some even mused about considering the implementation of vaccine passports on a regional level.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau singled out Ford last week for not mandating vaccines in non-essential settings, and promised $1 billion from a re-elected Liberal government for provinces to implement vaccine passport systems.

The group of scientists advising Ontario on the pandemic have said vaccine certificates would allow high-risk settings to reopen with greater capacity, and would help reintroduce public health measures if needed.

A national doctors’ group highlighted that comment in a Tuesday statement raising concern over the lack of federal consistency on vaccine certificates.

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The Canadian Medical Association called on all levels of government “to make the necessary commitments to ensure current and future vaccine certificate programs are interoperable across jurisdictions.”

Katharine Smart, president of the organization, pointed to the absence of a provincial system in Ontario that has left health units to consider taking up the task.

“While it is commendable that various organizations are moving proactively to counter the threat posed by the Delta variant, we worry this approach will create an even more complex and inconsistent patchwork of rules, creating confusion for those it’s intended to support,” she said in a statement.

— With files from The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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