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After vowing never to bring them in, Doug Ford said on Wednesday that, as of Sept. 22, people will have to show proof they’re fully vaccinated to enter indoor venues deemed to be at high risk of spreading COVID-19.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Yes, we’re aware a federal election campaign is under way, and that there are a lot of other things politicians would like to talk about besides the pandemic.

But the Delta variant of COVID-19 is ploughing its way through the country, cases and hospitalizations are rising, especially in the West, and Canada still hasn’t vaccinated enough people to bring it under control. And that is what really matters right now.

In a timely illustration of how bad things are, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has now been forced to do a complete U-turn on vaccine passports.

After vowing never to bring them in, he said on Wednesday that, as of Sept. 22, people will have to show proof they’re fully vaccinated to enter indoor venues deemed to be at high risk of spreading COVID-19.

Those include restaurants, bars, nightclubs, banquet halls, convention centres, gyms, sporting events, casinos, strip clubs and racing venues. Restaurant and bar patios are exempt, as are youth sports facilities.

Mr. Ford’s reversal is belated, and it will rely on easily faked printouts of vaccine receipts until Oct. 22, when the province says the secure passport it’s working on will be available.

But it is nonetheless welcome. Ontario is the fourth province, after Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec, to bring in a vaccine passport – a tool this page has long argued is critical to raising Canada’s vaccination rate, thereby minimizing the impact of the fourth wave.

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Not long after Mr. Ford’s announcement, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released its latest modelling and said avoiding another lockdown depends on the continued use of masks; reducing contacts; and using vaccination certificates, mandates and outreach to raise vaccination levels “substantially above 85 per cent of [the] eligible population.

This crisis has increasingly become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The Science Table says unvaccinated people infected by COVID-19 are 27 times more likely to be hospitalized and 42 times more likely to end up in intensive care than vaccinated people.

Worryingly, the daily uptake of new vaccinations has stalled across the country. More than 76 per cent of eligible Canadians (those 12 years of age and older) have had both doses, and 84 per cent have had a first shot, according to the COVID-19 Tracker website. But the seven-day average of new doses, although it has picked up slightly in recent weeks, is advancing at a snail’s pace.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, said Wednesday that proof-of-vaccination requirements at many indoor venues will spur people to get vaccinated – a phenomenon Quebec and B.C. saw after announcing similar rules.

Ontario isn’t the first province to bring in vaccine passports and mandates in a belated fashion; with luck, it won’t be the last. Alberta and Saskatchewan, with the lowest vaccination rates in the country, no vaccine passports and no masking orders, are leading Canada’s fourth wave. The two provinces, which combined have about one-third the population of Ontario, together reported 1,626 new cases on Wednesday, while Ontario reported 656.

Their governments have resisted what has become inevitable elsewhere, and in doing so they’ve made a bad situation worse. The remaining provinces without proof-of-vaccination requirements for at-risk indoor settings should pay attention to the predicament Mr. Ford found himself in.

But even provinces that have brought in vaccine passports and mandates can do more. On Wednesday, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Premier’s reversal, but also said workplaces that want their employees to get vaccinated are still in the dark as to what rules apply to them.

For example, Ontario is ordering restaurants to screen customers for vaccinations and will back that up with the force of the law. But those same restaurants appear to be on their own if they ask employees about their vaccination status.

It’s not just businesses that are confused. Universities and colleges across the country are bringing in a patchwork of different policies for this fall. Some have vaccination requirements; some don’t.

Only the provinces can clear this up. That’s why we have governments. It can’t be left to each individual business, school, student and employee to litigate what the rules should be.

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