Ontario businesses are having mixed reactions in response to the provincial government’s announcement introducing COVID-19 vaccine passports for many indoor public settings, including restaurants and gyms.
Minutes after the program was announced at Queen’s Park Wednesday afternoon, Cameron Edwards, the co-owner of a F45 training gym in Richmond Hill, told Global News that while he has instituted several public health measures, he’s concerned about potentially alienating some of the gym’s community members.
“That’s really tough as an owner, not only from a business perspective but also because we do try to foster such a community here that knowing that we are not going to be able to facilitate the physical and mental well-being of some of our members is absolutely worrying as a business owner,” he said.
Edwards said an immediate concern of his was to ensure his staff can be brought up to speed on scanning certificates presented by members, adding he fears the new measure will increase wait times to get into classes and potentially forcing the business to schedule class times farther apart.
He said he has received a lot of questions already from members in regard to the certificates. Edwards noted the government said the decision to include gyms in the passport program was based on data and expressed he would like that to be made public.
Officials announced on Wednesday that as of Sept. 22, Ontario residents will need to show proof of full vaccination (having received two doses at least 14 days before entry) along with photo ID in order to access the following settings: Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, meeting and event spaces, gyms and fitness facilities (exception for youth recreational sports), sports events, casinos, gaming establishments, concerts, music festivals, theatres, cinemas, strip clubs, bathhouses, and racing venues.
As of Oct. 22, the Ontario government is scheduled to roll out a new QR code-based application for residents and business operators to use in order for scans. Officials said new certificates similar to the current PDF ones will be issued. The new documents will contain a unique QR code that when scanned will display the holder’s current vaccination status (yes or no) and the person’s name.
At the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, co-owner Josh Stafford told Global News the passport is something that he would support, saying the business has been following the rules “all along” anyway.
Stafford said his patrons have been really great about understanding and following public health restrictions and capacity limits. However, he said he has heard of some “horror stories” endured by other businesses.
“We’ve been lucky because, of course, I have heard … whether locally or afar of an anti-mask person coming into a business and causing trouble. But we’ve really had none of that at all,” he said, noting all of his staff are fully vaccinated.
“I don’t really see it being a problem.”
Alastair Knight, a spokesperson for Craft restaurant in downtown Toronto, said the implementation of the passport is something they’re on board with as well.
“I think it’s great that it gives us kind of some stability, especially for my team members, my management team, that they know that anybody dining inside will now need to be double vaccinated to eat inside the restaurants,” he said, adding it’ll especially be more comfortable for staff heading into the winter months where more patrons will want to eat indoors.
Knight did express concerns about the added pressure on the staff, especially the front-of-house staff, who will be charged with enforcing the rules.
“The person at the front door is the hostess from open to close and nine times out of ten, sometimes are the youngest and most inexperienced people that we have in the business … And to have the pressure put on them with asking the guests this information is obviously going to be tough. So we’ll provide management support at the front.”
When asked about the added pressure for those manning the gates at an event or hostesses at a restaurant, Premier Doug Ford pleaded with those opposed to the passports to “come down to Queen’s Park” rather than come after people who are just trying to earn a living.
“They’re just trying to do their job,” he said.
For Knight, he said he hopes businesses can continue to move forward and not backward and not have any more shutdowns.
The director of provincial affairs for Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Julie Kwiecinski, told Global News before the announcement that the advocacy group’s members made up of around 38,000 small- and medium-sized businesses were “extremely split” on the issue of vaccine passports.
“It’s very contentious, extremely polarizing. Those that are in favour are passionately in favour [and] those that are opposed are equally passionately opposed,” she said.
Kwiecinski said the top thing that the CFIB was hopeful with any sort of vaccine passport announcement is that it would lead to the lifting of capacity restrictions for the businesses involved. For example, businesses such as gyms are only allowed up to a 50 per cent of the approved capacity limit.
However, provincial government officials said as of Wednesday capacity limits will remain in effect until there is a higher level of full vaccination amid a fourth COVID-19 wave fuelled by the more transmissible Delta variant.
Officials also noted the staff of the businesses affected do not have to use their passports to remain employed. The Ford government said it is up to businesses to implement their own vaccine policies.
— With files from Nick Westoll
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