Businesses shouldn’t have to be pandemic police

The cards have been promoted, printed and posted — to the tune of $4.3 million — and yet, Manitoba’s proof-of-vaccination program has been rendered largely worthless by recent public-health orders. Many of those in the province’s business community, however, seem keen to make good on the investment.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2021 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The cards have been promoted, printed and posted — to the tune of $4.3 million — and yet, Manitoba’s proof-of-vaccination program has been rendered largely worthless by recent public-health orders. Many of those in the province’s business community, however, seem keen to make good on the investment.

Unless you’re attending a concert or theatre performance, cheering on a professional sports team, betting at a race track, dabbing a bingo card in public or visiting a loved one at a hospital or personal-care home, there’s no provincial mandate to flash your vaccination status to gain access to non-essential services. Previously, bars, restaurants, movie theatres, galleries and museums were also off-limits to the unvaccinated.

The changes, which came into effect on Aug. 7, have removed significant incentives for those yet to get the jab and have placed the onus on individual businesses to enforce their own health measures. While an à la carte approach affords choice, it also creates confusion among customers and undue stress for business owners.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press Canadian Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Perrin Beatty.

The Manitoba and Canadian chambers of commerce have expressed support for vaccine passports and mask mandates to protect staff and patrons, while also minimizing the impact of an impending fourth wave. Lockdowns, as has become painfully obvious, are not good for business.

“One thing in which the private sector is very much united is that we can’t afford to go into more across-the-board lockdowns,” Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty told The Canadian Press.

Quebec recently became the first province to implement a vaccine passport system. Beginning in September, fully vaccinated residents in that province will need to scan a QR code in order to enter places with large capacities — such as music festivals, bars, restaurants and gyms. According to health officials, the restrictions are in place to reduce the risk of widespread business closures seen in previous waves.

Last Wednesday, the federal government announced a vaccine passport system for international travel set to begin this fall.

Vaccination passports have been controversial from the start. Those in opposition cite privacy concerns and loss of freedom, while those in support point to vaccination as a way to protect vulnerable populations and gain freedoms during a public-health crisis.

Despite the division, the majority of Canadians — 58 per cent, according to a recent Leger survey — support imposing a vaccination requirement for essential and non-essential activities. Locally, a survey by True North Sports and Entertainment found requiring proof of vaccination was important to the majority of season-ticket holders.

While some provinces have flat-out rejected the idea of a vaccine passport, others have implemented their own versions of the documentation. Manitoba has somehow managed to do both — encouraging the uptake of immunization cards (for which half a million Manitobans have signed up) and subsequently reducing their relevance.

The private sector has stepped up to fill the gap left by loosened provincial health orders. A local website has compiled a list of hundreds of Manitoba businesses that are continuing with their own mask requirements. Many are also asking shoppers to provide proof of vaccination.

Front-line staff are being forced to become the pandemic police, and proprietors are being forced to make decisions that will inevitably alienate a segment of their clientele. To put the responsibility for public health onto businesses that have struggled to survive during the pandemic is careless and inconsiderate — particularly in the face of a looming fourth wave.

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