Ontario to end COVID-19 vaccine passport system March 1

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday he is ending effective March 1 the province's COVID-19 vaccine passport system that required people to offer proof of vaccination for a multitude of activities, from shopping to the gym to restaurants.

Ford made his announcement about a half-day after a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor was ended, but insisted the decision was in the works "long before" the seven days of protests — spurred by COVID-19 restrictions and a trucker vaccine mandate — had threatened the economies of both nations. 

Ford said the end of the vaccine passport system, whose federal version has inspired a weeks-long trucker convoy in Canada's capital city, Ottawa, is coming "not because of what's happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it."

Along with the end of vaccine passports, capacity limits for personal gatherings and public events will be removed.

"We're moving in this direction because it is safe to do so," Ford said. "Through the advice of (Dr. Kieran Moore, chief medical officer of health for Ontario), we accepted the passports. Through the advice of Dr. Moore, we're going to get rid of the passports.

Added Moore: "All of the metrics are improving dramatically in terms of the number of people hospitalized, the number of people in intensive care units, the percentage of tests that are positive."

Citing a 92% Ontario vaccination rate of people 12 and up, Moore said the mandate "served its purpose," but that "as of March 1, it will no longer be necessary."

The COVID-19 pandemic "polarized us in a way we could never imagine," Ford said. "But for all of this, I can still take comfort in knowing that there remains so much that unites us."

Ford said repeatedly that "Ontario is open for business." He cited conversations with "Fortune 500 CEOs" worried about whether Ontario is stable enough to do or expand their businesses. 

"We will guarantee you a stable environment and to make sure we get goods from one side of the border to the other," Ford said.

At the same time, Windsor officials said Monday that public access to the area near the Ambassador Bridge will be limited  for an indefinite but "temporary" time to prevent an international incident.

Traffic on Huron Church Road in Windsor is now limited to "bridge-bound traffic only," said Jason Bellaire, deputy chief of Windsor police, at Monday's city council meeting.

"East and west traffic is not open," Bellaire said. "The natural movement flow of traffic on our roadways has to be temporarily reconsidered, so that we can protect the access to our public infrastructure, the bridge, given the circumstances that we found ourselves in."

Protesters initially blocked access to Detroit-bound traffic as well as Windsor-bound traffic before allowing access for United States-bound vehicles. The blockade of the Windsor-bound side caused truck traffic in Metro Detroit to be rerouted to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, causing long delays, and passenger traffic to the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

Re-opening the bridge required making "over 40" arrests and the towing away of nearly as many vehicles, and the issuing of "numerous" tickets to protesters, Bellaire said. 

"It came to a conclusion we were happy with," he said. "We're not happy that it happened."

What few protesters are out Monday are not in position to block traffic, Bellaire said.

"The demonstrators today are following the rules," he said. 

More:Authorities, protesters in stalemate over Ambassador Bridge blockade; arrest made

The East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group estimated Monday the blockade resulted in a $300 million loss to automakers, including lost wages of $145 million, mostly in Michigan and Ontario.

“Only some of that lost production can be made up given the tightness of the auto 

industry’s supply chain right now, so these are real losses to the men and women working in this industry," Anderson Economic Group Principal and CEO Patrick Anderson said in a Monday statement. 

Matt Moroun, chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, issued a "call to action" Monday to "protect and secure all border crossings in the Canada/U.S. corridor and ensure that this kind of disruption to critical infrastructure will never happen again.".

"This week has shown the world just how much our shared economies rely on border crossings like the Ambassador Bridge," Moroun noted in a statement. "They are critical pipelines that supply the goods we need to keep our factories going, our neighbors working and our economies thriving."

The bridge reopened late Sunday night for business.

“The Michigan Chamber and our member businesses across the state are relieved to see commerce across this critical border crossing flowing again, helping reduce the strain on fragile and recovering supply chains and restoring the essential trade and travel our employers, workforces and communities rely on," Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Holcomb said in a statement.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday called the reopening "a win for Michigan's working families."

“I want to thank the unified coalition of business leaders and organizations representing working men and women on both sides of the border for coming together to get this resolved," Whitmer said in a statement. "And I appreciate the U.S. and Canadian governments for hearing Michigan’s concerns loud and clear and stepping up to reopen the bridge."

Others weren't pleased with how long it took Canadian authorities to clear the blockade. 

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat who chairs the Senate Homeland Security panel, said Monday it’s not a surprise that a disturbance at the Ambassador Bridge could disrupt the supply chain, and that the episode underscored the importance of a strong working relationship with Canadian counterparts.

“I was certainly aggressively pushing for the Canadian government to respond quicker than they did, and but I'm certainly pleased that it's been finally has been resolved,” Peters said. “We need to continue to discuss how we make sure that our vital border crossings are able to stay open.”

On Monday afternoon, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there was a 50 minute wait time at Blue Water Bridge, which is in line with its average wait time of 46 minutes. There was no wait at the Ambassador Bridge, which usually has an average wait of 34 minutes.

As of mid-afternoon Monday, a live camera feed of the Ambassador Bridge, from Windsor entering the United States, showed a light trickle of vehicles. Traffic on the American side, Detroit-to-Windsor, appeared much heavier. 

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.