Ontario residents will need proof of COVID-19 vaccination to go to gyms, cinemas, restaurants, casinos, and a slew of other non-essential businesses starting Sept. 22.

As part of the provincial government’s vaccine certificate program, which was announced on Wednesday, all Ontario residents will be required to show that they received both doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days earlier in order to eat inside restaurants, work out inside fitness centres, go to nightclubs, cinemas, theatres, strip clubs and casinos, as well as attend concerts, sporting events, and other large, organized gatherings in indoor settings.

"We have two options here. We either do this or we risk shutting down the economy, which would even be worse, having our hospital capacity maxed out and at the brink, having our kids stay at home, our college and university kids going back online. That is what we are trying to avoid," Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

A vaccine certificate will not be required for retail shopping and outdoor dining, or attending workplaces, religious services, and other essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks.

Exemptions will be given to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and for children who are not currently eligible to be immunized in Ontario.

From Sept. 22 to Oct. 12, unvaccinated individuals will be given a temporary exemption to attend funeral or wedding receptions at meeting and events spaces provided they show a negative COVID-19 test result 48 hours prior.

Ontarians will be expected to use the paper or PDF vaccine receipt available online, along with photo ID to prove that they have been fully immunized, but the province said an app and QR code system is currently in development.

According to officials, people will be provided a unique QR code that contains information regarding their vaccination status and an app will be developed for businesses to read that code.

The app will show businesses a checkmark or an ‘X’ to confirm vaccination status, officials say, and the QR code can be displayed on smartphones or a printed sheet of paper. Users will also be required to show photo identification along with the QR code.

Officials said the province will migrate to the QR code system by Oct. 22 and it will be compatible with the systems used by other provinces and the federal government.

Processes are still being established for those with no email or health card/ID but more information is expected on that in the coming weeks, the province said.

Medical exemptions will not immediately be integrated into the QR code system but officials said they plan to include that feature at a later date.

The province said detailed guidance will be provided to businesses on how to implement the vaccine certificate program in advance of Sept. 22.

A few notable indoor businesses were left off of the list, including barbershops and hair salons, which were shuttered for months during earlier waves of the pandemic.

Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters Wednesday that the businesses were selected based on what the data revealed about transmission.

"The venues that we have chosen are responsive to the risk that we have found in Ontario," he said. "If the risk increases in other venues, we can add and implement additional measures to protect Ontarians."

The program, which is intended to be temporary, aims to reduce overall transmission in the community and encourage vaccine uptake as a high level of vaccination will be required to reach herd immunity with the more transmissible Delta variant, officials said.

According to the province, unvaccinated individuals are seven times more likely to get a symptomatic infection, 27 times more likely to end up in hospital, and 42 times more likely to end up in intensive care.

For individuals and businesses who do not comply with the program, fines will be issued under the Reopening Ontario Act, officials said.

The fine, the province said, will vary depending on the offence but individuals could face tickets of about $750 and businesses may be hit with tickets in excess of $1,000 for non-compliance.

In a statement, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said officers will not be expected to conduct routine compliance checks of enhanced vaccination receipts.

“Given the new requirement for proof of vaccination against COVID-19 announced today by the Government of Ontario, police services will continue to work closely with first responders, government, businesses, and community partners to ensure Ontarians are protected from this virus,” the statement read.

“The primary role of law enforcement organizations under the new rules will continue to be the keeping of the peace and the safety of Ontarians.”

In recent days, Ford's cabinet has met multiple times in an effort to hammer out the details of Ontario's vaccine certificate program after plans for vaccine passports were rolled out in multiple other Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Quebec, and Manitoba.

In the absence of government policy, several businesses and sporting organizations in Ontario, including the Blue Jays and Toronto FC, have taken it upon themselves to require patrons to produce proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to gain access to their facilities

When asked why it took so long to implement a program here in Ontario, Ford blamed the federal government for the province's inaction.

"For the past three months, along with Canada's other premiers, I have called on the federal government to develop a national vaccine passport," Ford said.

"We've seen this national leadership in countries around the world who have implemented their own national vaccine certificate programs, because it's clear that a national system is far better than a patchwork of certificates across every single province and territory in the country, especially as more Canadians travel, but Justin Trudeau has told us that they will not be rolling out a national passport."

But in recent months, Ford and some of his cabinet ministers repeatedly spoke out against the use of vaccine passports, and even ruled out using them in Ontario.

"We're not gonna do it. We're not gonna have a split society,” Ford told reporters back in July. "We aren’t doing it. It’s as simple as that. We’re just gonna move forward."

At that time, Ford said he supported a federal vaccine passport as it pertains to international travel, a document the federal government has committed to creating.

Uptick in vaccinations expected amid new rules

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist, told CP24 on Wednesday that Ontario will likely see vaccination rates climb following the announcement.

"We will likely see a pretty reasonable jump in people booking their vaccines. We saw that in France, we saw that in Quebec, we saw that in B.C. I think we will probably see the same thing in Ontario," he said.

"People who might have been sitting on the fence are going to say, 'Wow, if I want to participate in non-essential activities, go to non-essential businesses, like restaurants, like bars, like concerts or whatever, I need a vaccine, I'm going to go get one.'"

About 83 per cent of Ontario residents 12 and older currently have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 76 per cent are fully immunized.

"This helps create a safer indoor space," Bogoch said of vaccine certificates. "This is not the only thing that needs to be done. This is one major policy decision that can be taken to keep places open."

In a statement released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), the group said it is "disappointed" that the Ford government didn't remove remaining capacity limits before implementing additional restrictions.

"Today’s announcement adds an additional burden on these businesses and their employees. They need to know when they will be able to begin their recoveries," the statement read. 

"The Ontario government needs to provide more funding and a plan for allowing them to get back to 100 per cent capacity to these businesses now."

Officials said they will continue to monitor vaccine uptake and the province's key metrics and may consider upping capacity limits at some point in the future.