Ontario’s Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released a framework at the end of August for private sector businesses seeking to develop COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination protocols. The move was an important one in the province, and it was made to provide support in the absence of government guidance.
At that time, the organization, which represents more than 150 chambers of commerce and boards of trade in the province, said that implementing proof-of-vaccination would help businesses safely reopen and mitigate the risk of further lockdowns.
In an interview with Milénio Stadium, the Vice President of Public Affairs at the OCC, Michelle Eaton, said that although the OCC supports a vaccine passport “that is verifiable, secure, standardized, accessible, and portable”, they realized that the vaccine passports had a “disproportionately impact small business who tend to have less resources”.
The Chamber of Commerce believes that a vaccine passport will prevent another lockdown and is working with the Ontario government to make sure that this process is smooth while the businesses get used to the new rules. The OCC has more than 60,000 members across Ontario and is a strong advocate supporting businesses of all sizes.
Milénio Stadium: Since September 22nd, the Ontario government has implemented a new COVID-19 policy. What is the feedback that you are getting from the members of OCC?
Michelle Eaton: In general, the response has been positive as business owners also want to keep their workplaces safe. We are now in the fourth wave and COVID-19 vaccination is the single greatest risk mitigation tool against a resurgence of the virus. As we’ve seen in other jurisdictions that introduced a vaccine passport, Ontario has experienced a spike in people getting their first dosage since the announcement of the policy. A well-designed vaccine passport system can help prevent another province-wide lockdown, which would be devastating for businesses and the economy. Proof-of-immunization for permitted entry into non-essential, high-risk commercial spaces are key to preventing viral spread, protecting the most vulnerable groups, and ensuring the success of our economy.
MS: How many of them have received warning letters?
ME: We are dedicated to working with our members and government to ensure a smooth process. The Government of Ontario’s inspectors have received a mandate to lead with education, and to be patient and reasonable with businesses implementing the vaccine certificate.
MS: : In which sector is it most difficult to implement the new policy?
ME: It is worth noting that implementation of vaccine passports disproportionately impacts small business who tend to have less resources, from both a labour and financial perspective, to effectively implement and enforce a vaccine passport.
MS: Did the new policy add more costs for businesses?
ME: There is only anecdotal data on this – for example, some businesses reported the need to hire more staff to verify vaccine certificates in addition to contact tracing; others reported the need to hire additional security in the case of protests. We at the Chamber continue to advocate for any additional supports and guidance needed for businesses to effectively implement vaccine passports.
MS: Did the policy slow down business activity since it came into effect?
ME: There is currently no evidence suggesting the vaccine certificate policy change has made a substantial difference in businesses activity. Other health measures such as capacity limits have had an enormous impact on business activity. Recently, the Government of Ontario eased some of those restrictions on impacted businesses.
MS: Does the OCC expect that things will get easier with the QR code on October 22nd?
ME: A well-designed system will make implementation and verification easier for businesses and will be more user friendly for Ontarians. We support a vaccine passport that is verifiable, secure, standardized, accessible, and portable, as recommended by Ontario’s Science Table.