Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine passport is finally live, two months later than one young bar owner would have liked and with capacity limits still in place.
“The capacity does make a difference. On the weekends, I'm turning people away constantly,” said Robyn Harrison, the owner of the Cabin Fever pinball bar in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. “I'm literally sending money out the door.
“I was really hoping they were going to introduce some changes to the capacity along with the vaccine passport, but they haven't,” she added.
At 50 per cent capacity, Harrison has dealt with an equivalent halving of income, and says the government has given no sign when those limits might be relaxed even as help for small businesses to pay their rent and utilities is being removed entirely by the end of September.
Harrison used to have one staff member before the pandemic, but hasn't been able to bring him back since and doesn't imagine she could afford to until the bar is back at full capacity.
The passport system announced at the start of September and put in place on Wednesday requires proof that patrons wishing to enter indoor spaces at restaurants and bars, nightclubs, gyms, music festivals, sporting events, and other locations have received two jabs of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior.
Regulars at the bar, a tiny space that can feel cosy at the best of times, are for the most part fully vaccinated anyway by this stage, Harrison said, but several told her they had hoped the passport was introduced by the provincial government back when it first allowed establishments to reopen, and when they felt most vulnerable.
“I really wish they brought it out in July, but our government is not one for doing things speedily,” she said. “It's kind of confusing to introduce it two months later. We've all been indoors together for two months now.”
Some 10.3 million people in Ontario are fully vaccinated, which is 79 per cent of the total population and 69 per cent of the population aged 12 or older. Among younger age groups, the rate is lower, at less than 69 per cent for those in the 12 to 17 and 18 to 29 brackets, and 73 per cent for those between 30 and 39, according to provincial data.
Harrison is not too worried about having to enforce the new rules, figuring she won’t often encounter someone unaware of them or unwilling to comply, and expects it would go much like having to refuse service to those who are too drunk.
“It's already an awkward conversation, they already came in with a sense of entitlement, I don't imagine it's going to be any different from that,” she said. “It's a conflict I don't want to have, but it comes with the territory of having your doors open to the public.”
Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer