Premier Ford reveals details of Ontario’s QR code COVID-19 vaccine certificates

Ontario is making COVID-19 vaccine certificate QR codes available for download beginning over the next three days, starting Friday morning with those born between January and April before expanding to more residents.

An update added to the Ontario Health site last night says that the initial, phased three-day rollout is intended to ensure a “smooth user experience” for those who want to download their enhanced certificate as soon as possible.

Ontarians with a birthday in the first four months of the year were able to download their QR code as of 12 a.m. ET today.

The next phases of the initial rollout include:

  • May to August: Oct. 16
  • September to December: Oct. 17

As of 6 a.m. on Oct. 18 enhanced vaccine certificates will be available for all vaccinated Ontarians to download. 

To be clear, the enhanced certificates are not mandatory. Ontarians can continue using their current vaccine receipt if they wish.

An example of Ontario’s new enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificates, including a scannable QR code. (Government of Ontario)

At a briefing for media Friday, officials said that the purpose of the QR code system is to make the process of checking vaccination statuses more efficient for businesses, while also being more secure for the public.

You can read the full briefing presentation provided to media at the bottom of this story.

“They mean we can allow businesses the comfort to keep operating safely. They mean we can continue to get back to doing things we want without losing the gains we’ve made,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said a morning news conference.

“The objective is to avoid future lockdowns.”

The province says the QR codes will reveal less personal information than the current vaccine receipts do.

The QR codes include a person’s name, date of birth and whether they have received two doses of vaccine, with their last shot at least 14 days prior. It does not contain which brand or brands of vaccine a person received, or the specific dates of their shots. That information is included on the enhanced certificate itself, but is not transmitted through the QR codes.

Those who download an enhanced certificate can either store it on their smartphones or use physical copies, which can also be scanned.

Officials said that the Verify Ontario app that businesses will use to check QR codes does not store any personal information. It was developed in-house by the province and has been posted online as open source software. It works on Apple and Android devices that were produced in about 2014 and after.

Verify Ontario went live online yesterday, rolling out on the Google and Apple app stores. 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.

An example of the possible messages that a business will see when a patron’s QR code is scanned. (Province of Ontario)

Those hoping to enter a business impacted by the province’s vaccine requirements will also need to show an approved form of physical identification that matches the name and date of birth in the QR code.

The intent is that eventually the app and QR codes will be compatible with those in use in other provinces and territories, though it will likely take weeks or months before that process is complete, officials at the briefing said.

The province is working to include valid medical exemptions to COVID-19 vaccines in the QR codes, but officials couldn’t say when that feature may be rolled out.

Organizations and businesses requiring proof of vaccination, however, will still need to also accept vaccine receipts currently in use, and won’t be required to use Verify Ontario.

Under Ontario’s program, only those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — or have a valid medical exemption from a doctor — can access certain settings, such as theatres, nightclubs and restaurant dining rooms.

On Wednesday, 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.

Roughly 83.2 per cent of those eligible in the province have now had two doses of vaccine.

Ford asks health-care organizations for input on hospital vaccine mandate

Ford has written to hospital CEOs, local medical officers of health and other health-care organizations asking for input on implementing vaccine mandates for staff at hospitals.

Many hospitals across the province have already enacted their own mandates, going beyond the current provincial policy of having hospital staff vaccinated or subject to frequent testing.

Several hospitals have fired some staff who didn’t get vaccinated by their deadline or have placed them on unpaid leave, though they say the numbers are such that it isn’t affecting operations or patient care.

Ford’s letter says some have suggested that a provincewide mandate is necessary, but he says it’s important to balance the risks posed by COVID-19 with any strain on staffing resources.

He is asking the health-care leaders to give him their input on questions about the potential impacts of a vaccine mandate, anything more the government could be doing to increase vaccine uptake among health-care workers, and whether unvaccinated staff could be reassigned to non-front-line roles.

Ford is also asking the hospital CEOs specifically what impact a mandatory policy would have on diagnostic procedures or elective surgeries.

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