A Red Deer restaurant co-owner says the new program the province has launched to fight COVID-19 has been short on details.
Patrick Malkin, of The Granary Kitchen, said he is still deciding what to do after Premier Jason Kenney announced that starting Monday, restaurants and bars will face fewer restrictions under the new COVID rules if they require vaccine-eligible customers to provide government-issued proof of immunization or a privately paid negative COVID-19 test.
Businesses can opt out of the program but must operate at reduced capacity and with distancing rules or restrictions. For example, restaurants not in the program are limited to outdoor dining with no more than six people at a table.
The local restaurant owner is concerned the government hasn’t offered guidance around how to check if vaccination proof is fraudulent.
He said there could be legal ramifications if a customer uses a fake document to gain access at the restaurant and allows the virus to spread.
“Customers are certainly not in favour of a vaccine passport.”
He said developing and implementing the new rules has been rushed by the province and he’s still trying to understand the full consequences. It’s absolutely the most difficult decision he has had to make during the pandemic.
“There are concerns that the government hasn’t addressed and made clear. Lack of clarity makes it difficult for businesses to operate,” Malkin said.
Reg Warkentin, policy and government relations manager with Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, said it’s unfortunate there wasn’t more consultation and earlier warning about the changes, which will create some administrative and labour headaches.
“I’m trying to imagine McDonald’s checking everyone who comes in. It’s a big responsibility that’s been put on the backs of business,” Warkentin said.
He said anger and backlash from customers is also possible.
Liquor sales and consumption restrictions that came into effect Sept. 4 will continue under the new regulations. Warkentin said businesses are struggling to make sense of the curfew given the immunization/negative test exemption.
“It’s certainly a frustrating time. We just want it to make sense, and it isn’t always making sense.”
But allowing businesses to implement the exemption program is better than closing all indoor dining, he said.
“It’s not ideal but I think the business community understands and many saw this coming. At least with the vaccine exemption program they can continue to operate.
“We are hearing some (restaurants) will just close indoor dining and do curbside pickup. But I expect that will be the minority.”
The chamber will implement the exemption program for its events, and has ordered more rapid COVID tests for businesses.
“We are very hopeful there is a massive supply of rapid tests somewhere, and that the vaccination card program works,” Warkentin said.
Brandon Bouchard, general manager at Tribe in downtown Red Deer, said his restaurant will implement the exemption program to maintain indoor dining.
“I hope that our guests, when they come to our door, that they are respectful and understand the position we’ve been put in,” Bouchard said.
“We’re going to just do whatever it is that we have to do in order to get this thing under control.”
But it would have been nice if some of the restrictions were in place a little earlier to prevent the surge in COVID cases and the impact to businesses, he said.