Saskatchewan's hard-pressed businesses that have fought to stay afloat during the pandemic say the province's proof- of-vaccination program that will be implemented in a few weeks might pose some challenges for them, but is a better alternative than shutting down again.
On Thursday, Premier Scott Moe announced that effective Oct. 1, a provincial requirement for proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test will be implemented to access indoor dining, restaurants, nightclubs, bars, movie theatres and other establishments.
Some businesses are exempt, including grocery stores, fast food restaurants, hotels, salons and places of worship.
Masks are also once again mandatory in indoor public spaces, as of Friday.
Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan says proof of vaccination might be an "inconvenience" for some businesses, "but much less of an inconvenience than having to close down or to restrict hours, and certainly a lot less than having some of their staff or some of their customers get COVID."
"A small inconvenience is certainly worth the price," he said.
Restaurants uncertain how to enforce proof of vaccination
McLellan says businesses will face challenges such as dealing with customers who refuse to wear a mask, show proof of vaccination or provide negative COVID-19 tests.
That's the main issue that Daniel Ford Beavis, co-owner of O'shea's Irish Pub in Saskatoon, is struggling with.
"Things get complicated when you have to start checking more things … you need more staff and staffing is very difficult right now," Beavis said.
The province's press conference on Thursday didn't mention what consequences, if any, a person who declined testing or showing proof of vaccination would face.
However, the government said it's developing protocols on proof of negative test requirements and will launch a QR code system for proof of vaccination next week.
People will be responsible for paying for COVID tests, according to the premier.
Beavis says the ideal scenario would be for the province to employ people to scout businesses and ensure patrons show their proof of vaccination or COVID tests.
"That's great because then I don't have to worry about employing people and adding staff to an already strained industry," he said.
Grant Frew, bar manager of Bushwakker Brewing in Regina, also has many questions about how businesses will have to enforce the new measures.
"Some of the staff are asking questions like, 'How are we going to do this?' And I quite frankly don't know how to tell them how they should be handling this," he said.
Frew says it's also uncertain whether the proof of vaccination requirement will see more people coming to the pub.
"Most of our clientele, especially because they're a little bit older, they're vaccinated," Frew said.
"But as to whether or not they're going to come out, that's the question. Even if they're feeling more comfortable going to a restaurant, if the cases continue to rise in general, they may make the decision that they want to stay home regardless."
Music venue already requiring proof of vaccination
Saskatoon's live music venue Amigos Cantina announced in mid-August that it would require all fans, staff and artists to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and provide proof of vaccination when it started hosting live shows in September.
Erin Mooney, one of the venue's managers, says feedback from customers has "mostly" been positive.
"I think that the decision that we made really appealed to our really loyal customers. We have a lot of regulars, a lot of people that have been coming here for as long as it's been open," Mooney said. "It's very much a community and I feel like our community really supported us."
She said the three music shows that Amigos has hosted so far have drawn crowds of about 100 people each.
Mooney acknowledges that the venue's safety measures won't completely remove the risk of transmission, but "I think it's just the best that we can do with what we have."