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By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Ontario, Canada's most populous province, said on Wednesday that people would have to show digital proof they had been inoculated against COVID-19 to enter a wide range of establishments, dropping earlier opposition to the idea.
From Sept. 22 people will need proof of full vaccination to visit bars, restaurants, nightclubs and indoor sporting facilities. Beginning on Oct. 22, the information will be stored as a digital vaccine passport on mobile devices.
Premier Doug Ford, who initially opposed the idea on grounds that it would "create a split society," said the spread of the Delta variant had shown the need for additional steps.
"We must take immediate action and we will, because we need to protect our hospitals. We need to avoid lockdowns," he told reporters, urging people to get vaccinated.
"This is something I did not want to do. This is a serious step we're not taking lightly," he said. Officials say 76% of Ontarians have had both shots.
The issue is featuring on the federal election campaign, where Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regularly criticizes vaccine opponents.
Last month his government said it would require all federal public servants and many other workers to be vaccinated. The mandate also includes air, train and cruise ship travelers.
"I will continue to be steadfast and unequivocal - unlike some of the other leaders - on the way we get through this pandemic," Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.
The rival Conservatives suggest rapid testing is an alternative to passports. Leader Erin O'Toole, though, says he will respect whatever the 10 provinces decide to do.
Ontario is the fourth province to opt for the passports. Quebec, the second-most populous province, introduced its own version on Wednesday while British Columbia and Manitoba have announced plans to do so.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)