By Katrina Boguski
On Sept. 1, the provincial government announced that people will need to provide proof of being vaccinated fully and will need to produce ID in order to participate in many public events and to enter many businesses. The purpose of these measures is to control the spread of COVID-19, especially its most transmissible variants. This next step in the pandemic plan will also put pressure on those members of the public who are eligible to be vaccinated, but have chosen not to receive the vaccine yet. A lot of people have been taking advantage of pop-up vaccine clinics in anticipation of the new regulations.
Many local businesses will be impacted by the need to comply with regulations related to the vaccine certificate and verification app.
The Haliburton Echo reached out to the local Chamber of Commerce to find out how this announcement might impact local businesses.
In commenting on the rationale behind the new system, Amanda Conn, executive director of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce noted, “A well-designed vaccine passport system can help prevent another province-wide lockdown, which would be devastating for our local businesses and local economy. Local organizations will again need to navigate the implementation of a new policy. Still, as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 crisis, our local businesses care deeply about our community as a whole and will find ways to navigate yet another new policy to keep our community safe and successful.”
There are still several details about how the system of vaccine verification will roll out, and some of those unknown factors could have serious implications for small businesses. Conn said, “There remains an opportunity for the government to provide further guidance to the province’s business community, particularly around workplace vaccination policies for employees. We are concerned that a lack of clear guidance will disproportionately impact small businesses and lead to a patchwork of inconsistent policies across the province.”
It is unknown when the further details on the specifics of the verification system will be finalized. To aid businesses who are waiting, Conn advises “In the absence of guidance for workplace vaccination policies, The Chamber Network recommends organizations refer to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Vax-Pass Tenets, a proof-of-vaccination framework to support reopening plans for Ontario private sector businesses, developed by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in consultation with McCarthy Tétrault.”
Once more details are available, the Chamber Network plans to get up to speed on the specifics and will be working with the government to ensure local businesses are able to implement the new system as smoothly as possible.
Conn noted that rapid screening kits; ongoing advocacy for clearer guidance on these policies and curated information about Proof-of-Vaccination certificates are among the many things businesses can access. Conn said, “We are currently working with the Chamber Network to ensure businesses across Ontario will have the tools they need to implement with the help of The Chamber.”
She added, “The Chamber Network is committed to helping prevent another province-wide lockdown, which would be devastating for businesses and the economy.”
There are some circumstances that could have made rolling out the vaccine passport more challenging for small rural communities. One of these challenges includes availability or reliable internet service in some areas. Conn said,“As we know internet connectivity is an ongoing challenge for much of our County. We are encouraged to hear that while planning the new certificate system, lack of internet connectivity was considered and addressed.”
Restaurants, meeting spaces and gyms are among the businesses that will be impacted especially by these new regulations.
The Haliburton Echo contacted Heather Seabrooke to find out her reaction to the new regulations. Seabrooke is the co-owner of Step of Grace Conditioning Studio in Haliburton. She said, “We are fortunate and lucky in this small town. Being a personal training studio over a regular gym helps us a lot. Many of our clients are long standing and all are already vaccinated.” Although there may be the loss of some potential new business, the studio is in a relatively good spot to deal with these recent changes. She said, “… thankfully we have a solid base of wonderful clients.”
The new regulations will go into effect Sept. 22. A press release from the Office of the Premier explained which businesses will require proof of vaccination. These include: restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, as well as delivery and takeout); meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls and conference/convention centres; facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities with the exception of youth recreational sport; concerts, music festivals, theatres, cinemas and several other venues. These requirements would not apply to outdoor settings where the risk of transmission is low.
While the need to respond to this latest requirement could prove challenging for some businesses, there is a potential bright side to the situation which may benefit some local companies, Conn said. “According to the TD Bank – Provinces with a vaccine passport system in place will also experience higher economic growth, greater consumer and business confidence, and reduced risk of further lockdowns compared to those without a domestic passport system. Our local community and economy could benefit from this growth, greater confidence, and reduced risk.”