Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 678 cases of COVID-19, no deaths; TDSB requires staff to get vaccinated; Toronto, Peel, health units want provincial certificate

The latest from Canada and around the world Thursday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

6:05 p.m. Albertans will be able to print off a card to show they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but province-wide rules requiring proof of vaccination to enter places such as restaurants or sports events remain off the table, reports The Canadian Press.

“Alberta will not be following other provinces in implementing a vaccine passport program,” Justin Brattinga, spokesman for the Jobs, Economy and Innovation Ministry said Thursday in a statement, according to CP.

“If an Albertan has received their two doses, they should be confident that the risks of serious health effects are exceedingly small,” he said.

Lisa Glover with Alberta Health said residents will soon be able to print off their vaccination card.

“We are working on this functionality right now, however, we do not (have) a timeline on when this feature will be ready,” said Glover.

In the meantime, residents can use the paper confirmation they received when they got their shots, she said. Glover urged Albertans to review the vaccination rules of the places they plan to visit.

The recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the province and elsewhere across Canada has prompted some jurisdictions to take more active measures on vaccine passports.

Quebec is to launch its program next week. Confirmation is to be downloaded digitally.

As of Wednesday, only those 13 and up with the vaccine passport will be able to go to non-essential venues where COVID-19 transmission could be high. The spots will include festivals, performance halls, sports arenas, casinos, cinemas, fitness centres, bars and restaurants. There will be no restricted access to essential services, such as schools.

Starting Sept. 13, in British Columbia, people carrying a B.C. Vaccine Card will be allowed to enter high-transmission, non-essential venues. Proof of a single dose will be required initially and full vaccination will be needed by Oct. 24.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has dismissed bringing in vaccine passports. In July, he questioned whether they would meet personal privacy rules.

His government has been criticized of late for moving too quickly to declare the pandemic over and for lifting all but a handful of public health restrictions July 1.

Alberta now has a patchwork of mask and vaccine mandates. Rules vary among schools, universities, businesses and sports teams.

Alberta’s case numbers have been shooting up, with 1,076 new cases were reported Wednesday, the highest since mid-May.

Active cases, hospitalizations and patients in ICU are at about one-third of what they were at the height of the last wave, when they threatened to swamp hospitals.

Even with smaller numbers, hospitals are dealing with staff fatigue and shortages, which have led to cancelled surgeries and bed closures.

Kenney has stressed voluntary vaccinations as the way out of the pandemic. Lottery and other prize draws have been created as incentives to Albertans to get their shots.

About 77 per cent of eligible Albertans (those over age 12) have received at least one dose, while 69 per cent are fully vaccinated.

David Shephard, health critic for the Opposition NDP, said Alberta needs a revised plan to deal with rising case numbers. He suggested Kenney is rejecting new measures to appease party faithful and caucus members in rural strongholds that oppose health restrictions.

“It appears that their plan is to do nothing,” said Shepherd.

6 p.m. The Greater Toronto Hockey league is requiring game officials to be vaccinated.

5:14 p.m. Faced with the province’s refusal to implement a COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination system, local public health units in Ontario are considering regional vaccine certificates, though they acknowledge the measure would be less effective, reports The Canadian Press.

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, head of the Local Association of Public Health Agencies, said a provincial system would help control access to certain activities and settings based on vaccination status, according to CP.

If that doesn’t happen, he said the group of local public health units has discussed the possibility of using regional vaccine certificates similar to those being implemented in other provinces.

“We had a conversation, and it was an exploratory conversation because we’re still hoping that there will be a provincial approach,” Roumeliotis said Thursday in an interview.

“If it’s done in a regulation or a law or a provincial directive, it’s just easier to do, rather than to have multiple health units issue orders and issue directives. Really, from the logistics point of view, it’s just an easier way to do it.”

Roumeliotis, who is also the medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, noted that a growing number of institutions are already asking for proof of vaccination in order to attend, even without a province-wide mandate.

A standardized certificate from the province would help facilitate those policies, he said.

A spokeswoman for the health minister pointed to the receipts people can download or print after receiving their COVID-19 shots as an option should proof of vaccination be required.

Roumeliotis and others have argued, however, that those receipts can be forged and are difficult to read.

Peel Region’s top doctor said, this week, that the COVID-19 hot spot is looking at options for a local proof-of-vaccination system if the province doesn’t develop one.

Dr. Lawrence Loh said Thursday that the idea, and discussions with other health units about it, is in early stages and likely won’t involve a new physical certificate or digital record.

“We’re looking at … ways to use existing proofs of vaccination,” he said, adding that it’s the health unit’s preference that the province develop the technology.

The mayor of Mississauga, a large urban centre in Peel Region, said she doesn’t consider regional vaccine certificates to be a practical solution.

“I believe a standardized, provincewide proof-of-vaccination program is more effective than a patchwork of programs and apps developed by regional public health officials and local businesses,” Bonnie Crombie told a news conference.

Toronto Public Health has also expressed support for a provincial system.

Ontario’s chamber of commerce released guidance this week for private businesses seeking to develop proof-of-vaccination protocols, saying it did so “in the absence of government guidance.”

British Columbia and Quebec have said they will require proof of vaccination to enter certain settings, but Ontario has not indicated it will implement a similar system.

Premier Doug Ford has rejected the idea of a domestic “vaccine passport,” saying he doesn’t want a “split society.”

The province’s COVID-19 science advisers have said that vaccine certificates would allow high-risk settings to reopen sooner with greater capacity and help plan to reintroduce public health measures as cases rise.

Ontario reported 678 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 537 of the infected people not vaccinated or with unknown vaccination status.

2:47 p.m. The United Kingdom is moving Canada to its “green” list for travel beginning next Monday, reports The Canadian Press.

That means Canadians travelling to the U.K. will not have to quarantine upon arrival, even if they have not been fully vaccinated, according to CP.

The British Department for Transport says they will still need to take COVID-19 tests within three days before leaving for the U.K. and another one two days after arriving.

The change will take effect Aug. 30 at 4 a.m.

1:56 p.m. Even though a vaccine mandate for health workers could lead to cancelled surgeries and other service disruptions, the health order is necessary to protect workers and patients, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday, The Canadian Press reports.

Some workers may choose to quit their jobs instead of being vaccinated, but the ones who stay will be protected from the novel coronavirus and likely won’t need to take sick leave, Dubé told a legislature committee in Quebec City, according to CP.

Dubé and other members of the government took part in the first of two days of hearings on their decision to force healthcare workers in the public and private sector to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Workers will have until Oct. 15 to get two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or risk being reassigned or suspended without pay, he said.

About 30,000 workers in the public health-care system are not vaccinated, Dubé said, adding that the number in the private health system is likely even higher. And while some may choose to quit, which could lead to service disruptions, the alternative is worse, he said.

“In an environment where resources are extremely stretched, we cannot allow more staff to be withdrawn for reasons that could have been avoided through proper vaccination,” Dubé told the committee.

“Our objective with this measure is to protect our most vulnerable, but also to maintain our hospital capacity and maintain our level of care, notably by reducing absenteeism.”

At the peak of the pandemic, 12,000 healthcare workers were absent due to medical reasons, Dubé said, adding that around 2,000 workers are currently on medical or preventive lea