TORONTO – All eligible adults in Ontario can book COVID-19 booster shots starting Monday, part of an accelerated rollout of third doses the premier is touting as the centrepiece of the province’s response to the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Premier Doug Ford called on business owners to offer spaces for clinics and asked medical professionals to participate in the ramped up booster efforts. He also asked that individuals book shots as soon as they’re able in the face of the new variant.
“We will go after this variant with everything we have,” Ford said at a press conference Wednesday. “It starts with booster shots. Nothing matters more than getting these third shots into arms.”
Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s top doctor, has said that Omicron is infecting between four and eight times more people than the Delta variant. He has also said it appears to infect more vaccinated people.
The province said large companies will help run workplace and community clinics and some settings like pharmacies can start offering walk-in boosters to anyone 18 and older as of Friday.
Eligibility for boosters was shortened from six months to three months — or 84 days — from a person’s second vaccine dose. That timeframe will apply to all newly eligible people.
Anyone who was already eligible for boosters at the longer dose interval can now move appointments up to three months since their second dose.
Ford said the province is aiming to reach a capacity of up to 300,000 vaccinations per day. Health units have said they are diverting public health staff from other work to help with the efforts, and physician groups and pharmacists are also on board.
Starting at midnight, the province said it would also cap crowds at 50 per cent for indoor venues with capacity greater than 1,000 people, including sports facilities, theatres and concert facilities.
Wednesday’s announcement stopped short of bringing in further restrictions in other settings including restaurants and private gatherings, which a group representing local public health units had called for earlier in the week.
Dr. Peter Juni, one of the top experts advising the province on the science of COVID-19, said if we continue on our current trajectory, there will likely be more than 10,000 new cases a day by Dec. 31.
To protect against the spread, he said the province must bring in new public health measures, including restricting capacity at restaurants and sports arenas, and individuals must keep their gatherings “small and intimate,” with just five or six people present.
Ford said Wednesday that “locking down” wouldn’t stop the variant, but that settings where large crowds gather without masks was the priority for restrictions — though he added that “everything is on the table” as the situation evolves.
Also on Wednesday, the province launched its holiday testing plan to distribute two million rapid tests at pop-up sites in settings like libraries, malls, transit hubs and liquor stores.
– With files from Nicole Thompson