With Ontario’s vaccine certificate policy set to take effect across the province on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford says he understands that some people have concerns about privacy and civil liberties, but that the measures are needed to avert another lockdown.
Effective Sept. 22, Ontarians must show their paper proof-of-vaccination receipt to enter indoor businesses considered by health officials to be high-risk for the transmission of COVID-19, including bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres, banquet halls and sports venues. A digital QR code version and a smartphone app are not scheduled to launch for another month. Businesses have raised concerns about the potential for fraud and the burden the new system will place on their staff.
The province’s Progressive Conservative Premier, who reluctantly changed his position on vaccine passports just last month as a fourth wave of COVID-19 intensified, issued a statement on Tuesday calling for unity in the wake of the federal election.
Mr. Ford, who made few public appearances during the campaign, said the federal race had been, for many, “extremely difficult and divisive” and that emotions “have run high as candidates from all parties debated pandemic policies, including vaccine certificates.”
The Premier then addressed those who oppose vaccine certificates, arguing they are needed but would be a temporary measure.
“There are a lot of people who are concerned about this policy and I want you to know that I hear you,” the Premier’s message reads. “I understand your concerns about protecting your civil liberties and right to privacy. While many fully vaccinated people share these concerns, the greater concern is having to shut down again or experience a sudden surge in cases like in Alberta or Saskatchewan.”
Some Ontario businesses have warned that the initial, paper-based phase of Ontario’s vaccine-certificate program is going to produce confusion and conflict as servers will be required to scrutinize crumpled documents drawn from customers’ wallets that could be forged.
“When you are seating a lot of people and you’ve got a busy place, the last thing you want is to keep people waiting in line like they’re at the bank,” said Erik Joyal, president of Toronto’s Ascari Hospitality Group, which owns three Toronto restaurants, and a founder of Save Hospitality, an industry advocacy group.
Meanwhile, a race is on as Ontario develops and tests a new system that will create vaccine certificates with scannable QR codes, along with a smartphone app for businesses to verify them when customers show up at the door. This digital system is supposed to launch Oct. 22, but Ontarians will still be allowed to use their paper receipts if they choose.
The government says it is developing the app in-house. It is using the Smart Health Card standard, an open source system for generating QR codes developed by the Boston Children’s Hospital. The same standard is also being used for vaccine passport systems already in place in British Columbia and Quebec.
Some Ontario businesses say the new system should be integrated with existing apps that many restaurants and other businesses already use to collect customers’ contact-tracing information, allowing for a one-click system. But the government has not indicated whether it is considering this approach.
Tony Elenis, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, said the response he got from officials when he raised the idea last week was that it could be difficult because of privacy and data concerns.
“What the industry is looking for is a one-stop shop,” Mr. Elenis said.
Recreation facilities have been among the hardest hit by lockdowns in Ontario. Steven Brown, the owner of Hub Climbing, which operates two rock-climbing gyms in Mississauga and Markham, said that he is concerned he may lose some of his young clients, as that demographic has the lowest rates of vaccination.
He is preparing to take a financial hit from having to turn some clients away. But “if it means not having further lockdowns, then we welcome it,” Mr. Brown said.
With a report from Chris Hannay
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