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

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TORONTO — Ontario's health minister says people 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.

Christine Elliott says she believes most people will come to the 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 says 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.

Meanwhile, Ontario is reported 1,631 new cases of COVID-19 today, but the government says the case count is higher than expected due to a "data catch-up process" in its system.

The province also recorded 10 additional deaths linked to the virus

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 568 of the new cases are in Toronto, 322 are in Peel Region, and 119 are in York Region.

Ontario said 994 more cases were resolved since the last daily update.

The numbers come as a stay-at-home order in Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay lifts today, loosening pandemic restrictions imposed nearly two months ago.

The three regions were the last ones still under the order, and are transitioning back to the government's colour-coded pandemic response framework.

Toronto and Peel entered the strictest "grey lockdown" category, something local public health officials asked for in both regions.

Even those strict measures, however, allow more retailers to open, with restrictions, but leave gyms and personal care services closed. Restaurants, meanwhile, can only offer takeout, drive-thru or delivery.

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.

"Over the last year, my mother and I have depleted our life savings to try and keep the restaurant afloat. We have cashed RRSPs, drained savings accounts, maxed out credit cards and maxed out lines of credit because the government assistance programs simply aren't enough."

North Bay is now in the "red zone," the second most restrictive level of pandemic measures.

Elliott said the government is taking a "safe and cautious approach" to ending the provincewide shutdown, which started in January.

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

The Canadian Press