On Wednesday morning, Ontario's controversial new vaccine certificate program began. It means people who want to eat inside local restaurants, work out at fitness centres or gyms and visit entertainment venues must provide proof of their vaccination against COVID-19.
Kim Salmon, owner of The Weight Room on Laclie Street, said the introduction of the program has been stressful.
“It’s not going well at all. I’m only running at about 35 percent capacity unfortunately, and I had no idea who in my gym was vaccinated or not. But out of about 70 people, 25 of my clients are either half vaccinated or refuse to be vaccinated,” Salmon explained.
“Yesterday, I got calls from three guys who wanted to come and when I asked their vaccine status, they swore at me and told me what they thought of me. It’s been an absolute nightmare.”
Salmon says she supports the vaccine passport concept, and she is fully vaccinated, however, she thinks the government has put small local businesses in a tough spot.
“We are going to be verbally and physically attacked. I have no doubt that there will be people here at some point protesting. It’s a deep concern,” she said.
Salmon says the government has helped her business stay viable through the pandemic via rent subsidy programs which makes her not want to go against the grain. However, she doesn’t believe her business will survive much longer with the current vaccine passport system.
“Hair salons, nail salons, and tattoo parlors don’t have to do this, but we do…That shocks me,” she said. “I kind of feel lost and don’t know what to do to get people back in who I’ve lost, I don’t know how long this is going to take.”
Salmon said she hasn’t been given any direction from the government on how to implement the vaccine passport system.
“I’ve been on all the websites trying to figure out how I should be recording everything, but it’s been a pain and I think the government really half-assed this,” she said.
Orillia Swiss Chalet owner John Howard says the new system hasn’t been a "big deal" for his Memorial Avenue restaurant.
“It hasn’t been a problem. Most people have been conducive with what is going on here,” he said.
Only a couple of customers arrived at the restaurant yesterday with no knowledge of the vaccine passport system; one of them ordered takeout instead.
Howard says staff haven’t had to deal with the new system yet as managers were on vaccine passport duty during the first day.
“I know some of my staff are a little leery on it, but I’ve told them it is what it is and if a customer has an issue then management will deal with it,” he said.
“After a few weeks it will become second nature. I think our clientele knows about it and knows how it works, which should help us ease into it.”
Howard said he believes the vaccine passport will be good for business in the long run.
“I think it will help once people get comfortable with the process. I honestly think it gives people more confidence that they can come dine with us and be safe while doing so,” he said.
“It helps to know that our restaurant is doing everything in its power to keep them safe.”
Bayside Restaurant, located in the Barnfield Point Recreation Centre, has received a mixture of feedback from customers about the new vaccine passport system, says owner Eli Bilissis.
“We’ve heard mixed reactions. Not everybody is on the same page about this,” he said.
“The good thing is, for the most part, it seems like people are aware of what they need to have to enter a restaurant. Out of the hundreds of people we’ve served maybe one or two people didn’t have their vaccine records with them."
Bilissis says his senior customers have been understanding and OK with the new rules, but it’s the middle-aged customers that seem to have more of a problem with it.
“I’m not going to repeat some of the things they’ve been saying, but no matter how they feel about it, they have to go with the flow,” he said.
Bilissis says the vaccine passport system hasn’t impacted his business.
“I haven’t seen much of a drop in business to be honest. I think it’s still early, but time will tell,” he said.
As for his staff, Bilissis says everyone is on the same page and there are no issues.
“We are in business no matter what happens in this world and we have to continue to do our best to keep up with this,” he said.