Vaccine passports crucial to prevent future COVID-19 lockdowns, hospitality industry says

Ontario’s beleaguered hospitality industry is hoping the province will announce a vaccine certification system, saying it’s one of the best ways to keep employees and customers safe.

Such a passport would require customers at certain venues, including restaurants, to present proof-of-vaccination to enter—and hospitality industry leaders say the move couldn’t come sooner. 

“It’s the best solution to keep the hospitality community open, and employees and customers safe,” Tony Elenis,  president and chief executive of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, told CBC.

Elenis said the hospitality industry has been devastated over the past 18 months, and vaccine certificates would be one of the most efficient ways to spare the industry another prolonged lockdown in the face of the more transmissible delta variant.

Premier Doug Ford was expected to hold a cabinet meeting on Tuesday where the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine passport will be the main item on the agenda. Sources told CBC News last week about the plan on condition of confidentiality because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Tony Elenis, the president and chief executive of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, says vaccine certificates can prevent lockdowns and encourage employment. (CBC)

A proof-of-vaccination system would also help hospitality businesses to find suitable employees, something many are struggling with, he said, as workers are concerned about their own safety if they’re dealing with unvaccinated patrons.

“A vaccine passport will help in the recruitment of workers, and also in attracting customers in indoor spaces,” he said.

He said a QR code-based system, such as the kind used in other provinces where people carry a code on their smart phone that confirms they are vaccinated, would likely be the best option for Ontario, too. However, he said a “manual version” should also be used to increase accessibility for those without smart phones. 

Industry ‘has unduly suffered’

Local restaurant owners are also in favour of the vaccine passport rollout. 

Jacob Wharton-Shukster, owner of Parkdale butcher Chantecler Boucherie, said it could help avoid another lockdown and to “help keep our employees at work.”

“After so many days of lockdown in Ontario, we’re looking for some tools to help us stay open,” he told CBC’s Metro Morning on Monday. “The hospitality industry has unduly suffered in the pandemic.”

It would likely be up to individuals, owners and operators to implement and enforce, he said, but without it businesses and employees would continue to suffer.

“We’re not going to be able to do another round of takeout,” he said. “It was a grind, not profitable and hard on the staff.”

However, some restaurateurs in the city have found themselves on the receiving end of abuse and vitriol after coming out in favour of vaccine passports.

Many anti-vaccination protests in Toronto have been staged in front of restaurants, disrupting diners and staff. (CBC)

Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg said last week anti-vaccine-passport protesters have been crowding outside her establishments’ patios for weeks, banging on pots, yelling at customers and calling her a Nazi. 

Wharton-Shukster said the government should not consider the protests a reason not to implement the passports, and should “make policy for people who are doing the right thing instead of punishing everyone for a small minority of anti-science extremists.”

Elenis agreed, saying it’s not fair to penalize small businesses after “a very difficult 17 months.”

Leaders call for urgency

The Ontario Liberal Party, Ontario Green Party, and Ontario NDP held a joint summit on Monday where they discussed the need for a provincewide vaccine certificate. They were joined by leaders across the health-care, education, business, and municipal sectors to discuss a plan for the passport’s potential rollout, guidelines and enforcement.

After the summit, at a joint news conference, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the vaccine certificates could ensure any disruption caused by the fourth wave is as “minimal as possible.”

Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the vaccine certificate plan must be done in a way that “creates social cohesion, supports health care, education, small business, and that’s easy for them to implement.”

Ontario NDP health critic France Gélinas said it must be consistent, province-wide and easy to use.

In response to questions from reporters about the potential divisiveness of vaccine certificates, Schreiner said the passports would only be temporary, so people could recognize “it isn’t something that will happen for a long time.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory echoed the need for vaccine passports during a news conference on Monday with the city’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.

Tory said the vaccine passport “has to be straightforward to get and consistent with requirements we’ve heard from employers and venue operators.”

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