Ontario's deputy premier says the province's vaccine passport system may not start to wind down next month as planned if the Omicron coronavirus variant proves itself a greater danger to the public than Delta.

Responding to an NDP query in Question Period on Monday, Health Minister and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott told legislators the system that restricts many indoor public activities to the fully vaccinated may not start shutting down next month as planned.

“We’re planning to start lifting things but if this Omicron variant circulates widely and if it’s as virulent as it has been in other jurisdictions, we are going to need to take a look at that,” she said.

“We anticipate that we will need it for at least the next several months ... and maybe for longer than that, once we know more about the Omicron variant.”

Under the current emergency framework developed by the Ford government prior to the discovery of the Omicron variant, the vaccine passport system could be removed from restaurants bars and fitness centres as early as Jan. 17, 2022.

The vaccine passport system and indoor mask mandate would completely expire by the end of March, 2022.

Elliott said Monday there was always the understanding that the vaccine passport system could stay beyond the planned timeframe due to conditions in the province.

“(It was) always subject to the caveat that if there was a situation such as a variant we don’t know about, and we don’t know what’s going to happen, we would have to re-evaluate.”

NDP leader Andrea Horwath urged the government to “show strong leadership” and stop “pandering to anti-vaxxers” with what she called a premature planned removal of the vaccine passport system.

“Doug Ford’s end date for vaccination certificates always was a dog whistle to anti-vaxers. Mr. Ford’s message is: it’s ok to wait it out instead of getting a vaccine,” she said in a statement issued after Question Period.

The Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant first detected in South Africa has now spread to dozens of countries around the globe.