Canada

Restaurant operators have mixed reaction to Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine certificate program

TORONTO —
Members of Ontario’s restaurant industry say they are glad the government has mandated vaccination for customers but are confused and frustrated by the lack of detail provided in the province’s vaccine certificate plan, which was unveiled on Wednesday and comes into effect in less than three weeks.

Starting Sept. 22, all Ontario residents will be required to show that they have received both doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days earlier in order to eat inside restaurants, work out inside fitness centres, go to nightclubs, cinemas, theatres, strip clubs and casinos, as well as attend concerts, sporting events, and other large, organized gatherings in indoor settings.

But the provincial government says the QR code system and app it intends to launch to simplify its proof-of-vaccination requirements won’t be ready until a month after the policy comes into effect.

“I think there was a lot of disappointment that they weren’t able to have an app ready and the QR codes ready when it is being introduced,” James Rilett, the vice-president of Restaurants Canada, told CP24 on Thursday.

“We have to go a month with a system where staff just aren’t sure what to accept, etc. The app exists and there is no reason it couldn’t have been ready by Sept. 22.”

In the interim, Ontarians will be expected to use a paper or PDF copy of their vaccine receipt which is available online, along with photo ID to prove that they have been fully immunized.

Quebec’s vaccine certificate program came into effect on Wednesday and was launched in tandem with its VaxiCode application, which allows businesses to scan an individual’s unique QR code to determine vaccination status.

While the province has promised to provide a guidance document to businesses ahead of Sept. 22, Rilett said that the lack of detail given Wednesday has left restaurant owners “nervous.”

“The devil will be in the details. I think what people will see is more lineups, it will take longer to get into the restaurant, there will be some confusion. We definitely need to train staff more, probably need to have more staff on hand,” he said.

“I don’t think everything has been thought through. We are a little nervous that without all the details, we are not sure how it will work. That being said, we will make it work.”

The province also said Thursday that exemptions will be offered to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons but those exemptions won’t immediately be integrated into Ontario’s QR code system.

Larry Isaacs, president of The Firkin Group of Pubs, said he is pleased that the government has stepped in to mandate vaccination but noted that there is still concern around how the policy will be executed.

“We are really concerned about the safety of all of our customers and of our staff at the same time,” he said.

“We do not want to be in the middle of a vaccine passport fight. We want to take care of our guests. It has been a struggle right now to get people to come inside, to put on masks, to sit six feet apart, now we have to manage the vaccine passport.”

Paul Bognar, president and chief operating officer of Service Inspired Restaurants, said he is confused by the fact that some industries have been left off of the list.

The government has said a vaccine certificate will not be required for outdoor dining, retail shopping, or attending workplaces, religious services, and other essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks. People will also not be required to show proof of vaccination at barbershops or salons.

“It infers that health clubs and restaurants and gyms and the likes of that are a problem and not everything. I’m in full favour of the passport policy. I think it is what we need. But I think it should be for everywhere. I don’t know why we are segregating pieces again,” he told CP24 on Thursday.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters Wednesday that the businesses were selected based on what the data revealed about transmission.

Bognar said he also doesn’t understand why capacity limits will still be in place if everyone will be fully vaccinated inside restaurants.

“We are a little bit confused too because now we are saying the guests will come in with the vaccine passport, fully vaccinated. I have to ask the question as to why we are now restricted under social distancing,” he said.

The province has said it would consider easing capacity limits when the vaccine certificate program is in place but officials would like to continue to monitor transmission over the coming weeks before lifting restrictions any further.


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