Dropping of Sask. proof-of-vaccination policy gets mixed reviews from residents, business owners
Proof-of-vaccination or negative test requirement set to lift Feb. 14
The Saskatchewan government's decision to lift the proof-of-vaccination or negative test policy next week is bittersweet for one Regina restaurant owner.
Tony Yang, who owns Tipsy Samurai Bar and Charcoal Grill, said it could lead to a boost in business — but it may also mean some vaccinated customers feel unsafe dining in.
"Every one of my customers who I've been talking with say they're very comfortable in staying with how it is now," he said. "That's because they know everyone who's allowed in the building is vaccinated, and they feel safe."
The province announced on Tuesday it would be axing the public health order two weeks before it was set to expire. That means, as of next Monday, customers will no longer be obligated to show proof they've received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative PCR test to enter restaurants, bars and liquor stores, among other businesses.
"We want things to be as normal as they possibly can," Premier Scott Moe said during Tuesday's news conference.
According to Jim Bence, the president and CEO of Hospitality Saskatchewan, the early lifting of the public health order is welcome news to businesses keeping the province's tourism industry afloat — especially restaurants.
Despite fewer people eating out over the last few months, he said that many businesses have had to hire more staff to check for vaccine passports.
"Being able to lift that one aspect of it, we're expecting that we'll see a return to increased revenues. It may take a while, but this is certainly really welcome news for us," Bence said, noting that small rural businesses in communities with lower vaccination uptake are likely most excited.
"There's that light at the end of the tunnel."
Business owners take measures into their own hands
During Tuesday's news conference, the premier said any businesses that choose to continue requiring proof of vaccination should "consult their lawyer," noting they will no longer have the legal protection of a public health order backing them up.
While Yang has no intentions of checking for QR codes starting next week, he does plan to strongly encourage his staff to continue wearing masks at work — even after the province's indoor masking mandate expires at the end of the month.
"We come into contact with a lot of people every day, so the only thing that we can do is just protect ourselves better," Yang said, adding that it's important to him to keep his young children and aging parents safe.
Bence expects many businesses to go a similar route.
"There's some interesting conversations happening around masking and what would be a policy for employees to remain masked for a certain period of time," he explained.
Residents weigh in
The lifting of the proof-of-vaccination or negative test policy is getting mixed reviews from Saskatchewan residents.
"I think it's a good thing," said Ken Pedlow. "People are getting frustrated. It's time to get out and get moving again."
Pedlow added that he'll continue to wear his mask to the store and in crowded places for as long as he feels fit, but he doesn't think a vaccine passport is necessary anymore.
Linda Schneider doesn't expect the change to affect her life.
"I don't go out an awful lot [to eat] — so, for now, it doesn't impact me at all," she said. "I'm all vaccinated, so I didn't mind having to show my proof of it."
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For Idowu Akindele, the move is too soon.
"We're still in the middle of the pandemic, so now is not the best time for us to lift the proof of vaccination," he said.
Akindele added that he plans to get his COVID-19 booster shot, noting it's one of many personal health precautions he's taking to keep his four-year-old daughter, who's not old enough to get vaccinated, safe.
"[Lifting the proof-of-vaccination policy] is not going to change the way I live my life," he said. "I have to protect myself, my neighbour and my family."