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B.C. businesses hope for smooth sailing as COVID-19 vaccine card rolls out

On the eve of the launch of B.C.’s Vaccine Card verification system, downloading the vaccine card verifier app might seem like essential business to people curious about how it works and what information it reveals.
vaccine check September 2021
Kelly Gordon uses B.C.'s verification app to checks vaccination status at Romer's restaurant in Vancouver. NICK PROCAYLO, PNG

On the eve of the launch of B.C.’s Vaccine Card verification system, downloading the vaccine card verifier app might seem like essential business to people curious about how it works and what information it reveals.

After all, your date of birth and the particulars of your vaccinations (date and types of vaccine) are listed right below your QR code on your personal health gateway page.

Well, rest easy if you’ve been fudging your age — your secrets are safe. A quick scan with the app reveals only your code, your name and a green check mark: Vaccinated.

Restaurant owner Kelly Gordon said he and his staff at Romer’s are “cautiously optimistic” about how customers will respond to getting carded.

“We are not anticipating a lot of negativity. Our position is very clear: We are not making the rules and if we don’t follow the rules, we will get fines.”

Gordon said he and his fellow restaurateurs are just happy they have a way to keep their restaurants open as B.C. faces down a fourth wave of COVID-19 in B.C. caused by the Delta variant.

“This gives us two benefits — it keeps the industry open, and keeps people employed,” said Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association. “It also provides an incentive to get vaccinated.”

Tostenson said he believes there would have been more pushback from the public had the measure been introduced six months ago, when infection numbers were declining.

“The wild card here is the Delta variant.”

Tostenson cited the August surge in cases in the Okanagan region that led to the reimposition of restrictions on restaurant hours and capacity and the closure of high-intensity fitness centres, adding that he is dismayed by social media campaigns targeting businesses that plan to follow the provincial rules.

Tostenson said he’s warned restaurants to be careful after hearing of two campaigns led by vaccine card opponents, including letters circulated to small businesses threatening to sue them and another urging people to phone restaurants, order food and not go in and pay for it and pick it up.

“We’ve asked people not to take their frustration out on us,” said Tostenson, who called such actions selfish and mean-spirited.

Visitors from other provinces will have to show their cards or proof of vaccination and visitors from other countries will need to show the proof of vaccination they used to enter the country and their passport.

B.C.’s vaccine cards can be downloaded and printed or saved on a smartphone, and restaurants may check at the door or at tables, said Tostenson.

Some types of restaurants, including fast-food restaurants and mall food courts, are not required to to demand proof of vaccination.

Tostenson said he’s hoping customers will not challenge staff, who he says are “exhausted” and “battle-seasoned” after 19 months of being on the front lines of every-changing regulations.

“There will be lots of inspectors, inspecting businesses and watching people for bad behaviour. You can be fined for defying the health order. It’s a serious offence.”

According to the B.C. government, businesses that do not comply with the vaccine card order may be subject to a fine of $2,300, and individuals can be fined between $230 and $575,. Enforcement is “at the discretion of enforcement officers, including police, liquor and cannabis inspectors, gambling investigators and conservation officers.”

Some British Columbians are unhappy with the vaccine care requirement, saying it fails to account for the needs of people who face legitimate barriers to getting a vaccine or proof of immunization. However, the province has said use of the vaccine card is intended to be temporary, until Jan. 31, and only applies to non-essential services.

A joint letter released by Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society this month and sent to Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the plan could restrict access to services for people who can’t get a shot for medical reasons, as well as people without government identification, which could include women fleeing violence, people who are homeless and undocumented migrants.

Disability Alliance B.C., which also signed the letter, said in a separate statement that mandating so-called vaccine passports without accommodating people who cannot get vaccinated due to their medical condition is “blatant discrimination.”

Tostenson said he feels sympathy for those who may not be able to get vaccinated, and the Health Ministry said in a statement it appreciates the groups’ feedback and it has “been doing what we can to address some of these challenges.”

— With files from The Canadian Press