First day of vaccine passport goes smoothly in downtown Montreal, mostly

As of Wednesday, Quebecers will need to show proof of vaccination to enter most non-essential businesses.

Author of the article:

Jesse Feith  •  Montreal Gazette

Publishing date:

Sep 01, 2021  •  1 hour ago  •  4 minute read

Thomas Resendes, right, scans QR code from client Jasmin Lauriere, at Cora restaurant downtown on Wednesday.
Thomas Resendes, right, scans QR code from client Jasmin Lauriere, at Cora restaurant downtown on Wednesday. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

Shuffling through her wallet, Elyse Frenette felt a bit anxious Wednesday morning as she approached the downtown food court where she hoped to sit and read with a coffee.

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Frenette doesn’t own a smartphone or have internet access at her home. But knowing Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccine passport was coming into effect, she asked a friend to print her QR code ahead of time.

The 62-year-old pulled the small, laminated piece of paper from her wallet, had it scanned by a security guard, and was allowed to pick a table.

In no time, she was deep into a recent mystery novel written by one of her favourite authors. But given the novelty of it all, she also couldn’t help but keep an eye on how others were faring with their passports.

“I was surprised it took a bit of time before they could get it to work,” Frenette said soon after. “But I think it’s a good thing. People who have been vaccinated can now go where they want. And it will allow things to stay open.”

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After being announced in early August, Quebec’s vaccine passport officially came into effect Wednesday, with proof of vaccination now required to enter most non-essential businesses.

In downtown Montreal, the rollout appeared to go smoothly, but the morning wasn’t without a few technical glitches, moments of confusion and holdouts.

Though most had come equipped with their QR code, within 15 minutes of opening, the Cora breakfast restaurant on Drummond St. had already refused a handful of unvaccinated customers.

“It’s been a little frustrating at first,” manager Thomas Resendes said. “It’s always upsetting when you need to turn around customers in this difficult time.”

The Quebec government’s two apps for the passport, VaxiCode and VaxiCode Vérif, were both working well on smartphones, but the restaurant did have trouble getting things to work through a tablet. When business started picking up, this created a short lineup near the entrance.

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“So it’s a bit of a constraint, but I understand the government’s stance in trying to make things as safe as possible,” Resendes said. “We just work with whatever we’re given.”

Jasmin Lauriere was among those to face some confusion.

The 18-year-old student arrived from France this week to study at Concordia University. Lauriere is fully vaccinated, but Quebec’s app didn’t recognize his government-issued QR code from France when he arrived at the restaurant.

After a brief back and forth about the issue, Resendes let him enter after asking for his identification. (Quebec has stated out-of-province and international visitors will be able to show proof of vaccination from their governments along with a proof of address.)

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“It’s OK with me,” Lauriere said of the passport measure. “Some people don’t want to get vaccinated, but now they need to, they don’t have the choice.”

Though the measure has proved controversial, the Quebec government says the vaccine passport is its way of ensuring fully vaccinated Quebecers will not have to lock down again as the fourth wave of COVID-19 sweeps Quebec.

In Quebec City on Wednesday, Premier François Legault said he expects the passport rollout will go smoothly, noting that 88 per cent of eligible Quebecers have received at least one vaccine dose.

“It may happen that a small minority will be unhappy,” the premier said. “But I think the vast majority of the population supports the passport. They want to return to a normal life. And I think we need to help restaurants, gyms, bars, all those places which suffered in the last year.”

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Businesses that don’t comply with the passport will be subject to fines, but to help with the transition, Quebec is allowing a two-week grace period before sanctioning those that aren’t enforcing the passport.

Café Castel, on Sherbrooke St., was one of the restaurants not yet using the passport system on Wednesday.

Owner Omar Tohme said he feels the government hasn’t been clear about how restaurants are supposed to apply the system. He said he’s asked government employees for guidance with little success.

Asked about the vaccine passport app, Tohme said he tried to download it, but couldn’t get it to work. But he noted all his employees are fully vaccinated and the café is respecting all other measures, such as mask-wearing and hand washing.

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“At this point, we’re just trying to go with whatever the government says so we can stay open,” Tohme said.

“And honestly I feel the government is taking the wind out of our sails,” he added. “We’re trying to reopen and they’re just adding more and more constraints and making it harder for businesses to reopen.”

Next door, Abed Elqueisi, owner of Le Parmigiano restaurant, had his app ready to go as he waited for customers to arrive for breakfast.

During a usual pre-pandemic morning, Elqueisi said the restaurant would greet upward of 100 people with a full breakfast buffet.

But the pandemic has been tough on business — especially with office workers and tourists yet to return downtown — and the restaurant sat empty Wednesday morning.

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With another difficult summer ending, Elqueisi said he hopes the passport might help turn things around.

“I hope it will encourage young people and unvaccinated people to get the vaccine,” he said.

“If everybody gets encouraged to get vaccinated maybe we can come back to normal,” he added. “It will be better for the economy, for the government, for the hospitals. Better for me and you.”

jfeith@postmedia.com

More On This Topic

  1. A health worker helps a Montrealer create her vaccine passport at the vaccination clinic at Décarie Square on Monday, August 30, 2021.

    COVID-19 updates, Aug. 31: Quebecers will need a vaccine passport in many places as of Wednesday

  2. CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest employee Mohamed Imhidi helps Valerie Kuzmina create her vaccine passport at the Décarie Square vaccination clinic in Montreal on Aug. 30, 2021. Kuzmina needed help getting her Ontario vaccinations registered in Quebec.

    As start date looms, health authorities helping set up vaccine passports

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