TORONTO – The Canadian Press has learned that Ontario plans to introduce a set of policies requiring employers in education and several health-care settings to develop strict COVID-19 vaccination policies for their staff.
A senior government source with knowledge of the decision said cabinet approved the plans on Monday night, with an announcement from the province’s top doctor expected on Tuesday.
The source said Dr. Kieran Moore’s directive covering hospitals, ambulance services and community and home-care service providers won’t make vaccination mandatory, but those who decline the shots will be regularly tested for the virus.
The policy will be similar to one that is already in place in the province’s long-term care homes.
Staff at health-care facilities will need to provide proof of full immunization against COVID-19 or a medical reason for not being vaccinated.
People who don’t take the shots will need to complete an education session about COVID-19 vaccination and will be routinely tested for the virus before coming to work.
The health-care sector directive will take effect on Sept. 7.
Some Ontario hospitals like Toronto’s University Health Network have already introduced staff vaccination policies along the same lines as the government’s plans.
The source said the Ministry of Education also intends to introduce a similar COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees at all publicly funded school boards and licensed child care settings.
Staff in those sectors who don’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to regularly take rapid COVID-19 tests.
There are also plans for vaccination policies to be introduced in other high-risk settings like post-secondary institutions, retirement homes, congregate group homes, children’s treatment centres, women’s shelters and institutional foster homes.
The policies are set to be announced amid growing calls from health-care groups and opposition politicians that the government mandate COVID-19 vaccines for workers in high-risk settings like education and health care.
Premier Doug Ford has previously said he won’t make vaccines mandatory in any sector because he considers it a constitutional right not to take the shots.
Ford has personally been fully vaccinated against the virus and regularly encourages Ontario residents to get both doses.
The changes also come as the province enters what prominent experts have declared a fourth wave of the pandemic driven by the more infectious Delta variant, despite high overall vaccination coverage in the eligible population.
The latest data shows the majority of recently reported infections are among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people.
Moore has said he expects cases to rise further in the fall when people move indoors, particularly among youth and young adults who are the least vaccinated demographics and will gather in classrooms in September.
Ontario reported 348 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths from the virus on Tuesday, though six of the deaths occurred months ago. A majority of the new infections were among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people.
There were 127 people in intensive care with COVID-related critical illness and 78 of those patients were on ventilators.
The head of the Ontario Hospital Association warned Tuesday that the Delta virus variant is sending more patients into intensive care, with 10 adults admitted on Monday.