Ottawa eateries split on move making proof of vaccination checks optional

The province intends to lift all indoor capacity restrictions as of March 1 — if public health indicators continue improving — as well as proof-of-vaccination requirements for all settings. “Businesses and other settings may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination,” a provincial statement said.

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While Ottawa businesses welcome the easing of pandemic-related capacity restrictions set to begin Thursday, they are split on the Ontario government’s intention to make vaccination certificate checks optional as of March 1.

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“I look forward to opening up, bringing back most of my staff and getting them out of the house, getting them to better mental health,” said Abbis Mahmoud, president of the Dreammind Group, which includes four restaurants and bars in downtown Ottawa, plus a fifth eatery in Kanata.

Mahmoud said his venues, and other businesses he knows of, had to turn away many people last weekend because of the 50-per-cent capacity limits in place.

“As owners, we’re really excited about opening. We want to employ people and get the economy going again,” Mahmoud said.

Abbis Mahmoud, president of the Dreammind Group, pictured in this file photo.
Abbis Mahmoud, president of the Dreammind Group, pictured in this file photo. Photo by Jean LevacOttawa Citizen/Postmedia News

But Mahmoud and other entrepreneurs said going forward, enforcing remaining pandemic restrictions may not be easy, given many people feel as if measures such as proof-of-vaccination QR codes are no longer needed.

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“It seems like customers are surprised when we have any sort of restrictions,” said Brian Beauchamp, owner of Orange Monkey Bar and Billiards. “I have people come in without the QR codes, saying, ‘This is the first time anyone’s asked me for the QR code. I went to four pubs and nobody asked me for this.’”

The provincial announcement made Monday removes capacity limits at venues such as restaurants and bars (as long as dancing is not permitted), gyms, fitness facilities, cinemas and bingo halls as of Thursday. But verification of vaccination statuses at those businesses is to continue until at least March 1, and no date has been set for the lifting of indoor masking mandates.

The province intends to lift all indoor capacity restrictions as of March 1 — if public health indicators continue improving — as well as proof-of-vaccination requirements for all settings. “Businesses and other settings may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination,” a provincial statement said.

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But Beauchamp, who has supported measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, said it was “ridiculous” to make vaccination checks an optional choice for businesses.

“It’s totally disconnected from what’s going on in reality,” he said. “Don’t even put it in there. To put that in there is a slap in the face for someone who would continue to want to enforce it.”

“It would just be very difficult to enforce, for individual businesses to make that decision, with the lack of (government) support and the public pressure that’s currently on businesses to loosen restrictions before they’re legally allowed.”

While Beauchamp feels proof of double vaccination is no longer meaningful given the greater transmissibility of the Omicron variant, he says if proof of triple vaccination was required by the province, he might see its value and be supportive. But in a scenario where vaccine verifications are optional, businesses can’t afford such headaches as belligerent clients and online trolls, he said.

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“I’m not going to hire 10 security guards to deal with people.”

Meanwhile, Mahmoud said businesses that must enforce pandemic measures are “caught between a rock and a hard place” because “it’s really hard to monitor, it’s really hard to police.

“We do our best,” he said. “There’s some people still scared of COVID, and some people are not.”

Asked whether some businesses may see a drop in people coming when vaccination passports are no longer required, Mahmoud said: “I think the people that are going to go out are going to go out.

“A lot of people I’m speaking to have come to the realization that we’re going to have to live with COVID — everybody, young and old,” Mahmoud said. “People want to get on with their lives.”

Nelson Borges, general manager of food and beverage at the National Arts Centre, said he was disappointed with the removal of the vaccination passport requirements.

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“We would feel much safer with this initiative remaining in place. I hope the NAC will continue to only accept patrons and artists that are vaccinated,” he said.

The NAC’s senior leadership is likely to discuss vaccination passports as well as the latest provincial decisions on Wednesday, Borges said. He thinks the current NAC vaccination policy will remain.

“We are all in solidarity on this issue as it protects our management, staff and patrons.”

But Tatiana Pyzhov, owner of Overbrook Bingo Palace, said she is glad to see the end of the vaccine passport regime.

“This is less stress on business and less stress on the clients,” said Pyzhov, who explained many of her elderly clients were unable to download their QR codes and asked her business to print them for them.

Pyzhov said most of her clients have been triple-vaccinated and that vaccination rates for Ottawa leave her optimistic, rather than fearful, about the spread of COVID-19.

“We feel safe,” she said. “We feel we don’t need these passports anymore.”

phum@postmedia.com

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