Ontario’s COVID-19 passport system kicked in on Wednesday, and local businesses are still in the process of adapting to the change.
Under the new rules, people will be required to show proof of vaccination to access a number of non-essential services across the province, including restaurants, bars, gyms, theatres, and casinos.
The passport is meant to add another layer of protection against the spread of COVID-19 and to protect those who are not eligible to receive the vaccine, said Sudbury’s health unit.
Some businesses got a head start on implementing the new system days earlier, while others have had to adjust to accommodate the new mandate.
“It was a really quiet day today, but I think we just need to wait a couple days and see how it goes,” said Eddie Gorc, owner of Eddie’s Restaurant on Regent Street.
“We started checking passports on Sunday because we have a lot of regular clientele – we’ve found that checking them at the door when people come in has been easiest. It makes the process go faster.”
Gorc said his employees have adapted to checking vaccine passports at the door, and so far, his customers have accepted the new rules.
“You know what? It’s a fact of life. It’s gotta be done. There are people out there who say it’s bull—-, but in my experience, it’s a small minority,” he said.
“I’ve been lucky during the pandemic compared to a lot of places. I have a good, steady, loyal clientele and a lot of guys who come in here twice a week. It’s a lot easier here to monitor compared to most places, I think.”
The owners of Deluxe Hamburgers on Regent Street have found the new passport system a little more difficult to implement.
As a result, the fast-food restaurant decided to close their dining room temporarily.
“We’re quick here. People come and go quickly. Even the ones who stay to eat here, they come and go quickly. Verifying someone’s passport and ID and making sure they got it 14 days ago? That takes time,” said Marsha Smith.
“We’re a small business and we have a small amount of staff. We’re just trying to keep up with all the ever-changing policies and procedures. It’s just not feasible for us to have someone out there asking for ID right now.”
Understaffing contributed to Smith’s decision, but it also had a lot to do with the nature of the business and how the restaurant is set up.
“We have to verify ID at the counter, and then make sure the ones who’ve been verified are the ones that are actually sitting down. Sometimes people change their mind – then we’re going to have to worry about that,” she said.
“Like I said, people are in and out of here quick. To have someone at the counter asking everyone if they are dining in or out – I don’t have the staff for that right now.”
Smith added that it’s still day one. As the kinks are ironed out of the system, she will consider reopening the dining room.
“We just want to be really careful. I think this new system is putting the responsibility on everyone, and we all need to take part in whatever it is that we feel is right to move forward,” she said.
“This business was built in Sudbury and it’s only in Sudbury. As far as we’re concerned, it’s the best town around. Our customers are amazing, and they’ve really gone with whatever is going on.”
She added that the pandemic has affected her business, but she believes Deluxe is lucky to be able to offer drive-thru and takeout services.
“We’re just happy to be here and be open. We’re going to keep trying our best,” said Smith.
Public Health Sudbury and Districts said the COVID-19 vaccine passports will be required in most high-risk settings where people are likely to have to remove their masks to participate in whatever they are doing.
This includes eating, working out, or attending an event like a wedding reception.
“It’s that extra bit of protection in locations where there might be a high risk of spreading or getting COVID-19,” said Natalie Philippe, a public health nurse at Public Health.
“It will create a ring of protection around individuals who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 or who can’t get vaccinated due their age or to an allergy or a medical condition that prevents it.”
Anyone who tries to access one of these non-essential services must provide proof that they’ve received two doses of an mRNA vaccine approved by Health Canada in addition to government-issued photo identification.
Those who received one or two doses of a vaccine not authorized by Health Canada must follow up with one dose of an approved vaccine or they must receive three doses of the unauthorized vaccine.
Individuals must have received their second dose of the vaccine at least 14 days prior to accessing one of these local businesses or services.
“It takes about 14 days for your body to develop a good immune response to the vaccine,” said Philippe.
Residents of the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts do not need to apply for a vaccine passport.
“It’s basically a receipt saying that you’ve obtained your vaccination – it could be a copy of the Ontario vaccination receipt that you received at the clinic,” said Philippe.
“There is a printout option, but if you have chosen not to print out your receipt, that’s perfectly fine. You can use your email receipt that proves you’ve received your second dose, or you can access your receipt through an online portal.”
She added individuals can also use a receipt signed by an Indigenous health provider or a receipt from another jurisdiction.
Medical exemptions require an assessment by a health care provider.
“Right now, enforcement will look similar to what happened with the mask mandate. We are going to continue to follow a progressive approach and work with our local enforcement partners,” said Philippe.
“Enforcement is done in partnership with (Public Health), Greater Sudbury Police Services, provincial police, and municipal bylaw officers. It is a joint effort, and we will respond to complaints in the community.”
The health unit is asking the public to be patient and kind while the new system rolls out.
“The individuals that are going to be asking for this information have to do so by law. They didn’t make the rules,” said Philippe.
“It is a new process, and it is going to take a bit of time to get adjusted, but just be patient and know that in terms of complaints and enforcement, they have to follow the law.”
Colleen Romaniuk is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter based out of The Sudbury Star. The LJI is funded by the government of Canada.