Businesses demand clarity on proof of vaccination mandate

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup

Alberta's declaration of a new public health emergency caused confusion for businesses as they struggled to understand the impact of the optional vaccine passport system on operations starting Sept. 20.

"In an already polarized situation in our culture right now, why is the government not taking the lead on this and (instead) putting it into businesses' hands?" Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association told City News.

The regulations announced Sept. 15 allow restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, and nightclubs to operate "as usual" if they require customers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Otherwise, they must close indoor dining rooms, limit outdoor seating to tables of six, and shut down liquor sales at 10pm.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said the announcement "prompted more questions than answers for our business community" and that "answers and clarity are needed urgently" about how the so-called Restrictions Exemption Program will work.

One organization caught flat-footed by the new health orders was the the Edmonton Elks. The team had previously announced that fans would need to provide proof of vaccination starting with its Oct. 15 home game. A day after the new health emergency was declared, the CFL team was still trying to find out what new capacity limits for public gatherings would mean for its Sept. 18 game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The team announced late in the day that vaccination or a negative test would be required for fans. Edmonton Sun sports writer Terry Jones predicted attendance could be the lowest since the team moved to Commonwealth Stadium in the 1970s.

The Edmonton Elks.

The Edmonton Elks were caught flat-footed by the emergency declaration. (Edmonton Elks)

Before new restrictions were announced, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce joined its Calgary counterpart in releasing survey results indicating 70% of businesses support a vaccine certification program. "As other jurisdictions move ahead with implementing vaccine certifications, we cannot be left behind and have local business risk losing their competitive edge when it comes to attracting workers, customers, and investors," CEO Jeffrey Sundquist said in a news release.

Shandro told Albertans a printable proof of vaccination card would not be available until Sept. 19 – four days later than last promised – and a QR code system modelled after one now in use in B.C. is still weeks away. "We realize that this system is imperfect and some people may choose to abuse the system," Shandro admitted.

Questions are also being raised about why customers must be vaccinated but staff don't face the same requirement. "Doesn't sound very safe or logical," a listener to CBC's Alberta at Noon call-in show tweeted.

A growing number of Edmonton gyms, restaurants, theatres, and clubs had already announced they would require proof of vaccination or a negative test in anticipation that rising hospitalizations and deaths would force the provincial government to finally step in. "We were looking at the writing on the wall," YEG Cycle co-owner Andrew Obrecht said in interview with CBC Edmonton.

While Premier Jason Kenney is facing criticism within Alberta even from UCP MLAs that the government's inaction on rising COVID-19 cases "will cost ... lives," the province's reputation is also taking a beating internationally for its Open for Summer program.