Toronto Star

Fake exemptions could be problem

Concerns raised that vaccine passport plan may be prone to fraud


With a week until Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine certificat­e system takes effect, the province added indoor waterparks to the list of venues amid concerns the program should include more businesses and is prone to fraud.

Health Minister Christine Elliott downplayed odds that certificat­es and medical exemptions could be forged but did say restaurant­s, gyms, theatres, stadiums and other non-essential businesses required to check patrons for proof of vaccinatio­n should call police should confrontat­ions develop.

“If at any point they feel threatened, we want them to call 911 as soon as possible to make sure that our police officers can be there to assist,” she told a news conference Tuesday.

“As for how those police forces will be dealing with it, that will be up to each individual police force.”

Fines for violating Ontario’s vaccine certificat­e regulation­s start at $750 for individual­s and $1,000 for businesses

The certificat­e system is aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19’s highly contagious Delta variant by keeping people eligible for vaccinatio­ns but who are not at least 14 days past their second shot out of venues deemed at high risk for transmissi­on.

Patrons must show proof of vaccinatio­n and government identifica­tion such as a passport, driver’s licence or health card to prove their identify. Essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies are not included.

Requiring staff to checking for proof of vaccinatio­n or medical exemptions will further drain the resources of businesses that have struggled financiall­y through lockdowns and customer capacity restrictio­ns since the pandemic began, said the Canadian Federation of Independen­t Business.

Federation president Dan Kelly went on Twitter to express his skepticism.

“So an Ontario small biz and all its staff need to accurately recognize each province’s vaccine records, compare against ID and interpret notes from an exempt customer’s doctor/ nurse? What could go wrong?”

While expanding the list of businesses impacted to indoor waterparks and television or film studios with live audiences, the government also extended third doses to other vulnerable segments of the population in addition to the 30,000 people who have already been given boosters.

They include people under active treatment for solid tumours and hematologi­c malignanci­es, organ transplant recipients taking immunosupp­ressive therapy, and anyone with stage three or HIV infection. They will be contacted by their doctors.

“It may take time,” chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore cautioned.

Opposition parties said they were disappoint­ed Premier Doug Ford’s government did not beef up the vaccine certificat­e system to include employees of impacted businesses and more non-essential businesses, such as barber shops, hair and nail salons.

“It continues to be full of exceptions,” New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters, noting that Hamilton General Hospital in her hometown had to cancel all cardiac surgeries last Friday because it needed nurses and intensive care beds for unvaccinat­ed COVID patients.

“All non-essential businesses and services should require vaccine certificat­es,” she added, accusing Ford of “coddling antivaxxer­s.”

Elliott encouraged more Ontarians to get their shots and said those who have need to print out or download their proof of vaccinatio­n to their smartphone­s.

Kaleed Rasheed, associate minister of digital government, said the system will be streamline­d by Oct. 22 once a proof-ofvaccinat­ion app is released. That will allow businesses to scan a QR code that will have a patron’s proof of vaccinatio­n or medical exemption.

People with medical exemptions do not have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter a business or venue covered under the system.

The province will require a written document from a physician or nurse practition­er stating the bearer is medically exempt from being fully vaccinated for a specified time period.

“We all recognize fraud is a possibilit­y,” one senior government official told reporters.

Moore said the list of legitimate exemptions is narrow and includes allergies to the vaccine ingredient­s as confirmed by an allergist, inflammati­on around the heart such as myocarditi­s and pericardit­is, and the potential for “adverse events” after vaccinatio­n based on certain neurologic­al conditions.

In a new developmen­t, the certificat­e system will include vaccines not approved by Health Canada, such as the Sputnik shot from Russia.

In those cases, people must have had three doses of a vaccine not approved by Health Canada, or one dose of such a vaccine followed by a shot of Pfizer or Moderna.

Businesses are entitled to ask for a translatio­n of foreign vaccinatio­n certificat­es, according to a guidance document posted online by the ministry of health.

Just over 78 per cent of eligible Ontarians over age 12 have had two shots.

At least 718,000 first doses and 1.5 million second doses must still be given to reach the goal of having 90 per cent of those eligible fully vaccinated, officials said.

At the current pace, that would take another six weeks.

In the first seven days after Premier Doug Ford announced his vaccine certificat­e system, first vaccinatio­ns increased 29 per cent, Elliott said.

 ?? CHRIS YOUNG THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the list of legitimate exemptions is narrow and includes allergies to the vaccine ingredient­s.
CHRIS YOUNG THE CANADIAN PRESS Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the list of legitimate exemptions is narrow and includes allergies to the vaccine ingredient­s.
 ??  ?? Health Minister Christine Elliott downplayed forgery odds.
Health Minister Christine Elliott downplayed forgery odds.

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