• Newfoundland businesses encourage province to enact vaccine passport policy

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    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Luke Fisher had a busier-than-expected summer.

    The manager of Fisher’s Loft Inn in Port Rexton says the resumption of the Atlantic Bubble in July brought more visitors to the Bonavista Peninsula and to his inn at Trinity East.

    “We had an exceptional year; we blew all of our numbers out of the water," he told SaltWire.

    Although the provincial government relaxed the rules around COVID, dropping the requirement for masks, Fisher maintained his own rules — requiring his guests to mask up in the dining room and other public spaces at the inn, and maintain social distancing.

    “We do feel it is important that people are vaccinated when they come here,” he said, “and the reason we’re being so diligent around our COVID rules is because we’re unclear of how many people are vaccinated.

    “We are just trying to run our business as well as we can, safely.”

    Looking ahead to 2022 Fisher expects he will welcome even more out-of-province travelers as the world pushes past the fourth COVID wave and gets used to living with variants of the virus.

    He said he will continue to maintain his current safety precautions, adding it’s just common sense to ensure a safe workplace for his employees and a safe environment for his guests.

    But Fisher would welcome the rollout of a clear provincial government policy around proof of vaccination.

    The province has said it will follow the Quebec example. In that province a passport is required for anyone who is eligible for vaccination to enter non-essential, high-risk venues such as stadiums, theatres and restaurants.

    At a COVID briefing on Wednesday, Sept. 15, Health Minister John Haggie gave the impression the electronic verification system would either be used at the discretion of private businesses or only as a means of allowing non-essential venues to remain open in the event of pandemic lockdown.

    Another government official confirmed later that day the province is examining the possibility of making vaccine passports mandatory in some circumstances.

    Fisher said he would welcome more clarity and a timeline for enacting that policy and says a vaccine passport system “would be a good step in the right direction.”

    Hazel Bishop, executive director of the Gander Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

    Right now, she said, policies vary from business to business.

    In Gander, she said, most businesses that deal with the public frequently continue to have their employees mask up.

    But some don’t require their customers to wear a mask, while others do.

    That’s not only confusing for customers, she said, it can lead to conflicts.

    Bishop says she’s heard anecdotes of staff having the deal with verbal abuse from customers who challenge the business decision about masks.

    “Employees have taken an awful lot of flak from some people,” she said.

    Bishop says if the province adopts a vaccine passport system, it would make more sense to have a policy for businesses to use it.

    “Businesses are very resilient and they will follow what government puts in place. But don’t put the pressure on them (businesses) to put the policy in place and have to put up with the flak from people.”

    Having the same rules in place for everyone, she said, would help reduce conflicts and confusion — for both business owners and their customers.

    Victoria Swyers runs Skipper’s Café on the Bonavista waterfront, which has been a popular stop for travelers since 2005.

    When the Newfoundland government relaxed the rules for masks this summer, Swyers followed suit for her customers.

    But she’s not keen on enacting any policies at her restaurant or hotel that are different from provincial rules.

    It’s not because she doesn’t agree with masking up or expecting customers and employees to be vaccinated. It’s simply because, as a small business manager, she has enough to do without having to adopt her own COVID policies.

    Although business picked up this summer, she said her biggest challenge was trying to find staff. She says she’ll follow whatever policies the government puts in place and in the debate on whether to require customers to provide proof of vaccine, Swyers has a solid opinion.

    “I personally think it’s the right move,” she says

    Swyers said she has her two shots and she’d rather not have to worry about whether she’s serving customers who may not be vaccinated. She would welcome a government policy that requires customers to provide proof of vaccines, and employees to be vaccinated.

    “I think if you work in the tourism industry, you should be double vaccinated (against COVID-19) just for your own safety,” she said, given that people from around the world visit Atlantic Canada.

    Luke Fisher also hopes the province will come through with clear rules for businesses and their customers around proof of vaccinations.

    “Right now we just going with what we think is logical (and safe), but it would be a wonderful thing to have more clarity from the government on this, for sure.”