Businesses adapting to new pandemic protocols

Ontario’s vaccine passport system is proving to be a challenge for some businesses, but that’s certainly better than dealing with more lockdowns, says the president of The Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce.

“No one wants to have to have vaccine passports or vaccine verification in a perfect world, but we’re certainly not in a perfect world right now. The number one focus has to be, and I’ve said this repeatedly for months, we can’t have another lockdown,” said Ian McLean. “We need to have all the tools that are at our disposal to make sure that that we avoid another general lockdown, because that will be devastating for business.

The provincial vaccine certification process that came into effect September 22 is largely paper based at this point, which provides an extra layer of complexity for business operators, he added, noting the digital system expected later this month could improve the situation.

“When we’ve been dealing with the paper version of vaccine verification, it’s not uncomplicated – it poses some challenges for business, for sure,” he said. “The digital version will simplify things a lot for businesses, and they (the province) need to get that up and running as soon as possible.”

Though another hurdle for businesses already staggering under pandemic conditions for the past year and a half, the certification system has largely met with understanding from customers, McLean said.

“What are the tools that we need to make sure that we can avoid a lockdown as we battle through the last wave, get vaccinations up so that we can return to a new normal? Part of that is vaccine verification because that’s where we can give assurance to people, customers, businesses, that we’re being as safe as possible. I think the debate is really over – vaccines are the path forward to getting back to a new normal,” he said. “The vast majority of people are OK with vaccine verification because they see it as being an opportunity for them … that they can start to get back to more normal, like going out and being together, going to restaurants, those sorts of things.”

There does seem to be widespread acceptance for the policies, agreed Elmira BIA chair Jon Clay.

“It’s manageable. It’s an inconvenience, but I think across the board, people are used to it by now. They recognize what’s going on… customers understand that there are protocols in place for them to get the same service that they’re accustomed to,” said Clay, noting that settings such as restaurants are the ones most often dealing with the new policies.

“It’s a small price to pay to get back to normal, to be able to do those things that we have been accustomed to doing. I think there’s a level of safety, that the other people in that establishment also feel alright when they know that they’re in the midst of other people that have had their vaccination status identified. So they can feel more comfortable in taking off their masks in those types of establishments.”

People have generally been accommodating when it comes to the evolving pandemic measures, says chef Nick Benninger of the St. Jacobs-based Fat Sparrow Group, noting staff didn’t know what to expect when the vaccine certification policy came into effect.

“For the most part, people have been really good with this latest measure, the vaccine passports. We were quite spooked about it, but the people who show up the door, they’ve been great. They’ve been ready, they’ve had their stuff ready to go,” he said.

“So far, so good. And people have been lovely. There’s a stark difference between what you see on social media, and what people are like in real life.”

Prior to the rollout of the latest measures, a staff meeting at the restaurant addressed how to go about approaching people about their vaccination status, said Benninger, adding that the weeks ahead of September 22 were stressful. Still, measures such as masks and vaccine passports are better than the lockdowns that hit the hospitality industry particularly hard.

“Do I enjoy this? No, absolutely not, but if this is a tool to keep us open, then we’re 1,000 per cent behind it. That’s  what it is – it’s a tool to keep us open and prevent another lockdown.”

The province last week lifted some of the limits on indoor and outdoor activities, allowing full capacities at the likes of theatres, cinemas and concert venues, as well as spectator areas at sports and recreation facilities.

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