Venues report largely smooth rollout of vaccine-card program

Greater Victoria restaurants and fitness facilities largely reported few problems on the first day patrons were required to show proof of vaccination.

At restaurants across the city on Monday, there was a steady stream of diners — ID cards and proof of vaccines on phones or printed on paper at the ready — and only isolated reports of people being turned away because they refused to provide proof of vaccination.

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“It’s been pretty mellow today — the vast majority of people are understanding,” said Pagliacci’s owner Solomon Siegel following the lunch rush. “We had one person walk out on us, but he didn’t get mad — he just walked out.”

The vaccine-card program, designed to spur on vaccinations, requires customers to show proof of vaccination at restaurants, sports venues, theatres and other non-essential indoor places. About two million people have registered for the cards so far, the Health Ministry said.

The biggest impact of the new rules was always expected to be at restaurants, especially on Day 1.

Siegel said concerns ranged from delays in seating to increased labour costs and having to turn away business.

“The whole industry, my staff are all very concerned about people who are against this [passport] taking this out on us instead of the government,” he said. “Staff morale has certainly been damaged by this, and I now have my staff doing a job they have not been trained for. It’s not something they signed up for.”

Siegel said one person sent him an email last week calling him a Nazi. “And when I called them back, they told me to f*** off and die,” he said.

The industry has been bracing for such attacks and rumours have been circulating that people would take out their frustrations by calling in large takeout orders and not paying, or calling in threats to staff and owners of various establishments.

Spokesman Bowen Osoko said Victoria police have been hearing about threats by phone and email regarding vaccine passports, including one that came to police directly. Police are asking anyone who is threatened to call 250-995-7654, or 911 if they’re in immediate danger.

At Belleville’s Watering Hole, staff turned away half a dozen diners during the breakfast rush because they lacked proof of vaccination. Owner Rob Chyzowski said most were from out of town, and many had left proof of vaccination in their hotel rooms.

“Overall so far it’s been relatively easy, but this is only hours old,” he said, noting he would have security in place in the evenings this week, and would be there himself over the next few nights. “I don’t want this downloaded onto our staff.”

Chyzowski said most diners knew they were required to bring proof of vaccination and ID with them, but a few seemed intent on trying their luck without it.

Petr Prusa, owner of Floyd’s Diner, said most people seemed OK with the new rules, though their Langford location received a threatening call. “He said ‘I have a lot of friends’ and we’re now on his list,” Prusa said. “We get the odd person who gets upset. I get that, and I get that there are these sides, but we don’t have a choice. We are mandated to do this. If we don’t, we pay a fine.”

At Sidney’s 3rd Street Cafe, the very first people at the door Monday morning were five unvaccinated young adults. They took the news well when told they could not be served, said owner Jess Birring. Other customers, including several tourists who had to produce proof of vaccination from other provinces or the U.S., were happy to comply, he said. “People are very accommodating,” he said.

At the Roost cafe and bakery in North Saanich, servers visually checked the vaccine records of those who wanted to sit inside or on the patio. Others took their food as takeout to a grassy area outside. “We haven’t had anyone make a fuss,” said chef Robert McMullen.

Ian Tostenson, chief executive of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said reports out of Victoria and Vancouver have been overwhelmingly positive so far, although some incidents were reported in the Interior.

“We’re seeing some pushback where vaccine rates are not that high,” he said. “But overall things are very positive. I was in five or six restaurants Monday morning and it was pretty smooth.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the small number of people who threatened physical harm to employees or financial harm to businesses are “despicable.” “I don’t know what we say to people or how it is in any way acceptable that anyone … threaten people for following the law,” Dix said.

At the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre, a security guard checked patrons’ vaccine cards and ID.

Thomas Soulliere, Victoria’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, said most people complied with the new rule, “which is a great sign.” “We’ve had a handful of folks that either didn’t understand the rules or didn’t agree with them and wanted to say their piece and left.”

Crystal Pool customer Marie Courbron said she is “delighted” with the new card because she has two young children who will be taking swimming lessons. “So I’m really reassured as a parent that I know people will be vaccinated.”

At Saanich’s four recreation centres, many people showed up with their vaccine cards in hand, but had to dash back back to their vehicles for their driver’s licences to prove their ID, said senior manager of recreation Tiana Solares.

“So far everyone in person has been lovely,” she said in the early afternoon. “There’s been no abusive comments or yelling or anything, but we’ve received a few emails from people who are opposed.”

Jeff Byron, Esquimalt’s manager of recreation services, said the pool at the Esquimalt Recreation Centre is closed for maintenance, but those who arrived to use the weight room were “pretty accommodating.” “It’s been pretty smooth.”

Club Phoenix Fitness owner Jeff Dawson said he has seen a mixed reaction. “There’s a significant number of people that are compliant and being fine, but there’s a handful, of course, that are rather upset by it,” he said. “It’ll settle down eventually but I think this week is going to be challenging for a lot of businesses.”

At the Panorama Recreation Centre, a bylaw officer was on hand to prevent any problems, but no issues were reported. Users weren’t all sure about which facilities required vaccine cards, though. For example, the provincial health order requires them for weight rooms and indoor fitness classes but not the pool.

TFA Gym, which has two locations in Victoria, including one on Pandora Avenue and one on Rock Bay Avenue, has said it would not check vaccine cards. On Monday, co-owner Dave Puhky said business was brisk.

At the Sunnyside cafe in Esquimalt, where co-owner Stephanie Herring has said she would not ask customers to show vaccine cards, the restaurant also reported that it was busy throughout the day.

Businesses that violate provincial health orders can be fined up to $2,300.

Partial vaccination is currently still acceptable, but by Oct. 24, everyone entering non-essential venues must be fully vaccinated. The vaccine-card requirement is expected to be in place until at least Jan. 31, 2022.

Seventy-eight per cent of people in B.C. are fully vaccinated.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

jbell@timescolonist.com

— With files from Cindy E. Harnett and Roxanne Egan-Elliott

How to get your card

An electronic or printed version of the B.C. Vaccine Card can be acquired by visiting healthgateway.gov.bc.ca/vaccinecard and entering an individual’s personal health number, date of birth and a date of vaccination. The website will generate a QR code — a square-shaped scannable image — that can be downloaded or saved onto a mobile device. Be sure to save or make a screen shot of the card and code before clicking the “Done” button. The code can also be printed.

Order a paper copy by phone: 1-833-838-2323.

Paper cards received at vaccine clinics will still be accepted until Sept. 26, after which only a downloaded or printed version of the digital code will be accepted.

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