The Ontario government has begun the rollout of its vaccination verification system, which many businesses in the province will start using on Oct. 22.
Starting early on Friday, people born in and between the months of January to April who have been fully vaccinated against COVID could visit the Ontario government's website and, by providing their health card information, download scannable QR codes to represent this status. People born from May to August will be able to download their QR codes beginning Saturday, followed by those born from September to December on Sunday.
Using the province's new app, Verify Ontario, which was added to app stores on Thursday, businesses will be able to scan these codes. That will permit people entry to certain events and spaces where being fully vaccinated against COVID is currently required.
The settings where proof-of-vaccination is mandatory includes major indoor and outdoor events, and most indoor spaces that aren't retail stores — such as restaurants, bars, clubs, fitness facilities, theatres and conference centres.
Unvaccinated people who are younger than 12 and others who can prove they have medical exemptions are still able to enter these kinds of places.
"(The proof-of-vaccination system) means we can allow businesses the comfort to keep operating safely," Premier Doug Ford said on Friday while announcing the launch of the QR codes and the Verify Ontario app.
"(It means) we can continue getting back to doing things we want without losing the gains we've made," Ford said. "And (it means) we have the best chance to avoid being forced back into lockdowns that nobody wants."
Retail stores and many businesses that operate outdoors don't require proof-of-vaccination. Doctors offices, hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores don't either, and the government has promised they never will.
Since Sept. 22, places where only people who have been fully vaccinated can attend have had to ask people to provide proof-of-vaccination to enter. Up until now, businesses have had to check a hodge-podge of original paper receipts, PDFs, printouts and manually created digital passes.
Businesses will continue to accept original vaccine receipts and printouts after Verify Ontario is in use.
People must also show ID that matches their receipt or the information contained in their QR code to enter these settings.
The government also says it's looking into ways to allow people without an email, health card or other form of ID to obtain a proof-of-vaccination QR code.
According to the government, Verify Ontario does not allow the government or businesses to keep people's information — which has been an oft-talked about concern about vaccine passport systems.
Verify Ontario will also be able to scan similar proof-of-vaccination codes given out by the governments of British Columbia, the Yukon, and Quebec, according to a government official who gave a briefing to reporters about the app's operation on Friday. The government intends for Verify Ontario to also recognize codes from other provinces, after they launch.
The Ontario government plans to keep its vaccination requirements in place until at least next year. The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said on Thursday that Ontarians should expect a "phased exit" from the system, meaning that certain settings — and likely those which are the largest, like NHL or NBA games — could require proof-of-vaccination to enter longer than other businesses that currently do.
In August, the month before Ontario implemented its vaccine passport system, businesses in the province that are represented by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) were split over whether they would support one. In a survey, 45 per cent said they would support the use of a vaccine passport by government for customers visiting their business, 40 per cent were against it and 15 per cent were undecided, Julie Kwiecinski, CFIB's director of provincial affairs for Ontario told iPolitics in an email.