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Doug Ford, Ontario Premier

Ontario expands booster eligibility due to omicron, implements 50 per cent capacity on large venues

Wednesday, December 15, 2021 @ 4:46 PM | By Amanda Jerome


On Dec. 15, the government of Ontario announced that it would “rapidly” accelerate the “booster dose rollout by expanding eligibility to all individuals aged 18 and over, as well as shortening the interval to three months following an individual’s second dose.”

This decision was made to “safeguard the province’s hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) in the face of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant,” a government release explained.

The government also launched a “holiday testing blitz” and offered “rapid antigen screening to individuals free of charge at pop-up sites across the province, as well as select LCBO stores across Ontario.”

Premier Doug Ford

In a press conference, Premier Doug Ford said that as the province combats “the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, nothing matters more than getting these booster doses into people’s arms.”

“I am issuing a call to arms. We need every member of Team Ontario to stand tall and do their part as we work to protect our hard-fought progress and keep Ontarians safe,” he said.

As of Dec. 20, people aged 18 and over “will be eligible to schedule their booster dose appointment through the Ontario’s booking portal, by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, participating pharmacies and primary care settings.”

“Appointments will be booked three months (84 days) after a second dose as the province urgently expands booster eligibility to millions more individuals. Additionally, pharmacies and other channels may provide boosters for 18 and over at the three-month interval starting Friday, December 17, 2021 for walk-ins,” the government’s release added.

Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health, said in a statement that as the province continues to “learn more about the Omicron variant, we need all hands on deck to help limit transmission and protect our hospital capacity.”

“A third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine offers additional protection against the Omicron variant, and I urge everyone to get their booster dose as soon as you can. If you haven’t received your first or second dose of the vaccine, now is the time,” she stressed.

The government’s release also introduced capacity limits to “further strengthen its response to Omicron.”

According to the release, effective Dec. 18 at 12:01 a.m. Ontario will introduce “a 50 per cent capacity limit to the following indoor areas of venues with a usual capacity of 1,000 or more: facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities; entertainment facilities such as concert venues, theatres and cinemas; racing venues; meeting and event spaces; studio audiences in commercial film and television production; museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments; and fair, rural exhibitions, and festivals.”

“This measure is being taken to reduce opportunities for close contact in high-risk indoor settings with large crowds and when face coverings/masks are not always worn,” the release added.

As of Dec. 15, “up to two million rapid tests will be provided free of charge at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings such as malls, retail settings, holiday markets, public libraries and transit hubs.”

“Pop-up teams will be deployed at nearly 50 locations across the province, including some co-located with GO-VAXX mobile vaccine buses. Most sites will distribute free take-home rapid antigen test kits, subject to supply, and some will offer asymptomatic rapid antigen screening on-site. The government will also make take-home rapid tests available at select LCBO stores, starting with the busiest stores this week and with more stores being added in the coming days,” the release explained.

The government’s release also noted that the “latest available data suggests that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta variant and will become the dominant variant by the end of the month.” In the press conference, Ford noted that omicron may already be the dominant variant.

“Early evidence suggests that a third dose or booster can further increase protection against severe illness and hospitalization. While cases were always expected to rise, the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant could put additional strain on Ontario’s hospital capacity, making it critical that all Ontarians receive their booster dose as soon as possible,” the release stressed.

As of Dec. 15, the release explained, “there were 153 COVID-19 related critical illness patients in ICU.”

“The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 related critical illness patients in ICU is 154. Approximately 600 ICU beds are available, with nearly 500 additional ICU beds available for surge capacity if required,” the release added.

The province is asking “public health units, hospitals, pharmacists, primary care providers and other health-care providers to ramp up additional vaccination sites and prioritize the administration of first, second and booster doses across the province.” The government is “also partnering with additional health-care providers and first responders to support Ontario’s vaccination efforts and administer more shots in arms.”

The government is also “engaging with large corporations who have the capabilities to implement workplace and community clinics to support the booster dose rollout for employees, their families and the local community.”

According to the release, “Bruce Power, in partnership with Grey Bruce Health Unit, will be the first corporate-led vaccine clinic, starting the week of December 20.”

“The province will also be expanding the Stop the Spread Business Information Line to allow businesses to request vaccine supply to administer on-site for employees. Businesses will need to meet certain criteria to ensure proper storage and safe administration of the vaccines, including availability of health human resources. More information on the corporate and mobile clinics will be available in the coming days,” the release added.

Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement that “as we continue to learn more about the Omicron variant we need to do more to strengthen our defence against the virus, and vaccines are the most effective way we can do that.”

“If you are eligible for a booster or have not yet had your first or second dose, please come forward to get vaccinated. It will provide you, your loved ones and your community with vital layer of protection throughout the winter season,” he added.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Amanda Jerome at Amanda.Jerome@lexisnexis.ca or call 416-524-2152.