Proof of pre-existing illness not required for COVID-19 shot, Ontario health minister says

TORONTO —
Ontarians won’t be asked to provide proof of their pre-existing health conditions to access a COVID-19 vaccine during the second phase of the rollout, the province’s health minister said on Monday.

Christine Elliott said she believes most people will come to clinics when they are permitted and not take advantage of the honour system.

The vaccine will be offered starting in April to people with specific health conditions like organ transplant recipients, those living with obesity and those receiving treatments that suppress the immune system.

Elliott said local public health units will screen people as they arrive at the clinics and may be able to check with a person’s family physician, but that will not be mandatory. She said some people may be asked to come back at another time but that hasn’t been an issue with the rollout so far.

“We haven’t run into very many of those situations,” she said. “People are following the rules, they are coming in at the appropriate time, they’re being very patient, and they want to make sure that people who are the most at risk are going to be given their vaccinations first.”

Vaccinations among the highest-priority Ontarians, including long-term care residents and staff, are wrapping up, and some local public health units have already begun offering shots to the broader public, starting in many cases with those over age 80.

First vaccine doses were completed as of Monday in 31 fly-in Indigenous communities, in what the province called a “milestone” in its effort to provide protection against the virus in remote areas. Ontario aims to complete second doses in those communities by the end of April.

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 1,631 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, but the government said the case count was higher due to a “data catch-up process” in its system.

The province also recorded 10 additional deaths linked to the virus.

Those numbers came as a stay-at-home order lifted in Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay, loosening some pandemic restrictions imposed nearly two months ago.

The three regions are the last to move back to the government’s colour-coded pandemic response framework.

Toronto and Peel entered the strictest “grey lockdown” category, as requested by public health officials in both regions.

The new lockdown allows more retailers to open, with restrictions, but gyms and personal care services remain closed. Restaurants can only offer takeout, drive-thru or delivery.

Shoppers lined up outside Toronto’s Eaton Centre on Monday morning, waiting for the downtown shopping mall to open. Lines also formed outside several larger stores in the downtown core including the Hudson Cay Company, HomeSense, H&M, and Best Buy.

Bianca Charles said she was so excited to go shopping in person that she didn’t sleep the night before. She said she wasn’t looking to buy anything in particular, but was eager to have the outing.

“It’s just nice to have back your freedom, stretch your legs a little bit, to just do something,” said Charles, who was first in line to go into HomeSense.

Some restaurant owners said they won’t be able to survive much longer unless they’re allowed to reopen for on-site dining, even at limited capacity.

“Move us to the red zone (of the pandemic system) so we have a fighting chance. Even 14 days in grey lockdown could mean the end of my business and many others,” Regan Irvine, owner of the Irv Gastropub in Toronto, said in an open letter to officials issued last week.

North Bay moved Monday to the “red zone,” the second most restrictive level of pandemic measures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

– with files from John Chidley-Hill and Shawn Jeffords



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