Mixed reaction in north to province's vaccine passport system
System will help keep people safe but could create extra burden for business, says Sudbury chamber
Starting September 22, if you want to go into a bar, restaurant, gym or an arena in Ontario you'll have to show proof you've had your two COVID-19 shots. Entry to sporting events, music festivals and concerts will also require a vaccination passport.
The news of vaccine passports was announced Wednesday by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliot.
"We're pretty happy to hear about this," said Krishna Patel, executive director of the Northern Lights Festival Boreal (NLFB) in Sudbury.
She is pleased with the news, even though this year's festival is scheduled in early September, before the passport system will be in place.
"It's just one step closer to putting on shows again, which is what we do, so we're excited," Patel said.
In August, NLFB did announce it would be requiring proof of vaccination to anyone who wants access to the festival grounds during the Sept 10 and 11 event.
"It's nice to have this mandate coming in now that we have some backup from our province to enforce this as well," she said.
Neil Milner, chair of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce is a bit more cautious about the passport news.
"We have some members that are looking forward to a vaccine passport as a tool to help them protect their workers, and those tend to be inward facing businesses," he said.
However, some chamber members will be impacted negatively because of the provincial system.
"The outward facing businesses or the public facing business, have expressed concern that all of the burdens associated with, or complying with a vaccine passport will be left to them," he said.
Milner says that could include the cost to provide staff to check passports, or issues connected with making sure customers comply with the rules.
"And the additional burden may cause some people not to go out and not go to the businesses," he said.
"I'm glad to hear that finally the province has made the right decision when it comes to vaccine passports for access to activities indoors," said Robert Mazzucca, commissioner of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL).
He can't understand why it took the provincial government so long to make this decision. The NOJHL put its vaccine policy for players, coaches and staff in place in the spring.
"It was like this was the right thing to do — boom — done," he said.
"We had a board meeting in May, we decided in the last week of May, and it was implemented in June."
However, it was Monday when the NOJHL added spectators to its vaccine policy.
"It represents the best efforts to practically invest in keeping our community safe, our events or games. It preserves the safety of the staff, the players, and fans and the guests that are attending the games," Mazzucca said.
The NDP's Health Critic, Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, feels Premier Ford dragged his feet on this vaccine passport decision, but she is pleased that a system will finally be in place.
"So after schools are in place, after hockey has started and all of this but we will get one," she said.
"It feels like he was forced into this and is doing it against his will, but we are getting one. So let's celebrate the small victories."
Gelinas says if the provincial system isn't rolled out properly, it could be a burden to businesses that are already having a tough time.
"We don't know how difficult it will be for businesses to use this," she said.
"There's lots of questions that are unanswered yet, that makes a lot of people very nervous and very scared."
A QR Code vaccine passport system should be ready by Oct. 22, with a new verification app to go with it.
Essential retail, like grocery stores, are exempt, as are places of worship and hair salons, alongside other personal care businesses.
Health Minister Christine Elliott stressed Wednesday that "at no time" will people be denied medical care or food from grocery stores, regardless of vaccine status.