Free Rapid Testing will be provided at pop-up locations and at selected LCBOs. To protect Ontario’s progress in the fight against COVID-19 and safeguard the Province’s hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) in the face of the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant, the Ontario Government is rapidly accelerating its 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. To provide an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 and variants during the holiday season, Ontario is also launching a holiday testing blitz starting today to offer rapid antigen screening to individuals free of charge at pop-up sites across the province, as well as selected LCBO stores across Ontario.
“As we combat the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, nothing matters more than getting these booster doses into people’s arms” said Premier Doug Ford. “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.”
Starting Monday, December 20, 2021, individuals aged 18 and over are eligible to schedule their booster dose appointment through the Ontario booking portal or by calling Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre Ontario, 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.
In addition, individuals aged 50 and over, as well as all those currently eligible who have already booked their appointment at an interval of 168 days, can call Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre Ontario to re-book for an earlier date at the three-month interval and can change their appointment through Ontario’s booking portal.
“As we continue to learn more about the Omicron variant, we need all hands on deck to help limit transmission and protect our hospital capacity,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “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.”
To further strengthen its response to Omicron, effective December 18, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. Ontario has introduced a 50% 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.
As part of the Government’s enhanced testing strategy, 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, and with more stores being added in the coming days.
Residents can visit Ontario.ca/holidaytesting to find out if pop-up rapid antigen screening sites will be available in their area. Locations and operating hours will be updated weekly, and no appointment will be required.
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. 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.