Ontario’s top public health official says that he would be supportive of lifting capacity limits in all settings that require proof of vaccination but he doesn’t want to do so until the full impact of the Thanksgiving weekend is clear.

Sources have told CTV News Toronto that the Ford government is expected to make an announcement next week on its plan to exit Step 3 of its “Roadmap to Reopen,” potentially paving the way for capacity limits to be lifted in restaurants, gyms and other settings.

But during a briefing on Thursday Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said that he first wants to ensure that the recent Thanksgiving weekend doesn’t lead to a spike in cases.

He said that should the trends continue to be positive over the next seven to 14 days capacity limits could then be lifted in sectors where proof of vaccination is required.

“This is a government decision. It is not mine. It is that of the government. But I hope that as we get through this weekend and get further insights on the impact of the potential spread during Thanksgiving that we will be able to make a recommendation to government to further open up businesses that have been adversely affected,” he said. “But it is data driven. I know there is various opinions on when to open up what business but my commitment is that we will follow the best evidence and that we will provide our best recommendations to government at every opportunity.”

The Ford government abruptly lifted capacity limits in some large venues late last week, allowing a near full capacity crowd to attend the Toronto Maple Leafs home opener on Wednesday night.

But it continues to cap the indoor capacity of gyms and restaurants at 50 per cent, leading some of those businesses to cry foul over what they perceive as unfair treatment.

In a statement provided to CP24 on Thursday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business applauded the Ford government for its plan to “finally lay out a road map to lift the capacity restrictions that have been in effect since July 16.”

The business association, however, said that it is “counting on the Ontario government to make this change immediately, and not add additional delays or thresholds.”

At a news conference in Sault St. Marie earlier on Thursday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also questioned why small businesses are being treated differently than the operators of large venues that seat thousands.

“Why did Doug Ford give a bit of a gift to the big fish while mom and pops and local business have had to wait and have been wondering why they were treated differently?” she asked. “It is time the government starts communicating why they are making the kinds of decisions they are and why they are favouring the big fish, Ford’s buddies, as opposed to everyday community businesses which really do make a difference in local communities.”

Vaccine certificate program could eventually be made voluntary

Ontario had initially said that it would exit Step 3 once 75 per cent of the eligible population was fully immunized but in August it announced that it would keep all remaining restrictions in place for the time being due to concerns regarding the Delta-driven fourth wave of the pandemic.

Premier Doug Ford will be speaking with reporters Friday at 11 a.m. about the vaccine certificate program and the province’s plan to exit Step 3.

However, sources say that cabinet has not yet met to approve the plan and that any formal announcement will be pushed back until next week.

One thing that also remains unclear is the future of the vaccine passport system, which was only launched three weeks ago.

Sources with knowledge of the deliberations underway now tell CTV News Toronto that the government is considering a “phased approach” which would eventually see the mandatory proof of vaccination requirement replaced with a voluntary system that businesses could choose to opt in to.

But Moore said on Thursday that he “can’t see” Ontario scrapping the vaccination requirement for non-essential settings until after the December holidays at the earliest. Even then, he said that he expects proof of vaccination to continue to be required for mass gatherings.

“What we see is a phased removal of domains requiring verification of your immunization as we have very low rates (of unvaccinated individuals) across Ontario. So we may not require them in some venues but still require them in mass gatherings where we have a large number of people gathering,” he said. “So we’re still reviewing that science and getting the input of our experts. But we do not see the whole certification process ending suddenly but having a phased exit from it over time.”

App to verify vaccine status of patrons made available for download

Moore’s comments on Thursday comes as the app for business and organizations to verify the vaccination status of patrons is made available for download for the first time, more than a week ahead of schedule. .

When a proof of vaccination QR code is scanned in the “Verify Ontario” app, it will respond with either a green check, yellow caution sign or a red "X," which means the certificate is invalid.

The yellow caution sign could be issued because the vaccine certificate being scanned was issued outside of Canada, the app says.

The Verify Ontario app is available in the Apple app store and Google Play.

Verify Ontario