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Questions remain for Whistler’s service sectors on vaccine card

Business community welcomes new measures, but says enforcement shouldn’t fall solely on frontline staff 
Whistler’s restaurant community is hopeful frontline staff will get support from the province on enforcing B.C.’s new COVID-19 rules requiring proof of vaccine status to enter. Pizzeria Antico is pictured.

Whistler’s business community mostly welcomed this week’s news that, with COVID-19 cases rising, B.C. would begin requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms and sports and performance venues, but questions remain around the program’s finer points.

“[Monday’s] announcement was more hardline and sweeping than the Chamber network had expected and comes with many unanswered questions,” said Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace in an emailed statement. “While proof of vaccine will be a tool to help drive up vaccinations, stem transmission and keep businesses open, the obvious concern is that businesses are expected to enforce the program and with that comes time, cost and (likely) difficult conversations with customers.” 

B.C. officials announced Monday, Aug. 23 that the province is introducing COVID-19 vaccine certificates for non-essential services amid surging cases of the Delta variant. Launching Sept. 13, the B.C. vaccine card will be needed to enter nightclubs, restaurants, casinos, fitness centres, weddings, indoor conferences, liquor stores and choirs, among a host of other locations and events. British Columbians will need at least one dose of the vaccine by that time to be eligible for the vaccine card. By Oct. 24, users are expected to be fully vaccinated at least seven days after getting their second dose to access businesses and events.

It does not apply to retailers, grocery stores, health services, places of worship or K-12 schools. 

Those visiting from outside the province will need to show proof of vaccination based on records from their residing jurisdiction as well as government ID.

A link will be provided to British Columbians with their proof of vaccination ahead of the Sept. 13 launch that people can save onto their phones to display when entering businesses. Those without access to a phone will be able to receive their vaccine card through a government call centre. Those unable to show proof of vaccination online will be given “a secure alternative option,” according to a government release.

“By the end of the long weekend, we’ll have all of those details out for you, but this is our way of getting through this next phase of the pandemic that we’ve been dealt and to make sure that we can go through the fall with safely reopening schools, safely reopening post-secondary education for students, for faculty, and to safely continue our businesses and events through the fall,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in Monday’s presser. 

With several significant details still to come, Restaurant Association of Whistler (RAW) president Eric Griffith said the restaurant sector is looking for clarity on how enforcement of the new rules will work. 

“The big concerns are: how are we going to execute this? What are the tools going to look like from the government, and what type of support are they going to give us to do it?” he explained. 

For frontline staff stretched thin by a worsening labour shortage coupled with the return of visitors en masse since B.C. entered Phase 3 of its COVID recovery plan, the news—along with Tuesday’s announcement that masks are required again in indoor public spaces—comes with concerns about the potential for blowback from guests. 

“All the calls we’ve taken in the last couple days, everyone’s like, ‘How are we going to make this work without ruffling feathers, without creating conflict, without putting extra pressure on staff?’ It’s not their job description,” said Griffith. 

That was echoed this week by BC Chamber of Commerce president (and former Whistler Chamber of Commerce president) Fiona Famulak, who said in a statement that, “While this is an important step in helping businesses keep employees, customers, and patrons safe while rebuilding consumer confidence and restoring business, how the program works in practice must be carefully decided.

“Burdening businesses and frontline employees with enforcement of public health related initiatives is not appropriate and must be handled in an informed way and with all stakeholders in mind.”

Katie McFetridge, director of Whistler’s Altitude Fitness & Health Club, said she was frustrated with the timing of the reintroduction of mask mandates. 

“Those small businesses that survived the previous 18 months are again scrambling to comply with last-minute regulations despite the forthcoming issuance of the vaccination passport,” she said in an email. “My business will lose members if we are forced to implement masking again.”

In a statement, communications manager Jennifer Smith confirmed Whistler Blackcomb would require all individuals over the age of 12 to wear a mask indoors and on gondolas at the resort, adding that the company is also working to determine how the vaccine requirements for specific events, services and businesses would apply to resort operations. 

- With files from Tyler Orton, Business in Vancouver