Vaccine passport system enters ‘transition period’ in Sask., Moe says

Business leaders report a mix of concerns. Cannabis retailers say they were only told this week that customers must prove vaccination.

Author of the article:

Phil Tank  •  Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Premier Scott Moe holds a press conference regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. Photo taken in Saskatoon on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.
Premier Scott Moe holds a press conference regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. Photo taken in Saskatoon on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he expects the proof of vaccination system that begins on Friday will undergo weeks of transition.

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The new policy will require anyone who wants to enter non-essential businesses and venues like restaurants or theatres to produce proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test.

“There will be a transition period,” Moe told reporters in Saskatoon on Thursday. “The policy does begin on Oct. 1, but we do see and know that there will be a number of weeks that there will be a transition for businesses, for people to ensure that if they’re not vaccinated they have their negative test documentation with them.”

Moe said he thinks people will largely comply, but warned that enforcement will be necessary in some instances. Violation of public health orders can result in fines, he said.

The province launched smartphone apps this week to help with the confirmation of vaccination status and relaunched QR codes for individuals that can be scanned to confirm they’re immunized.

“We’ve said this since the early days of the pandemic: we are relying on Saskatchewan people to comply with the orders,” Moe said.

Business leaders said they’re hearing a mix of concerns.

Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, said most businesses support the new system, but he’s heard about frustration with technical issues.

Jason Aebig, CEO of the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not hearing about technology concerns, but he expects the greater issue will be training staff on verification and how to spot attempts to fake it.

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Aebig said another challenge will be training staff how to refuse entry to people who fail to produce proper proof.

These can be challenging conversations at the best of times, and especially now,” Aebig said in a text message.

Moe acknowledged the policy will require “difficult decisions at the door of some businesses” and asked that Saskatchewan people be understanding since the policy is intended to keep people safe.

Hospitality Saskatchewan CEO Jim Bence, said the restaurants and bars that belong to his organization are ready for the new system. The biggest concern for employees is the potential abuse by customers who must be denied entry, he added.

Bence and Aebig said they were not aware of any businesses planning to refuse to implement the new system, as has happened elsewhere in Canada.

Some businesses have said they expect to lose customers over the measure, Bence noted.

A number of operators, particularly in rural areas, have had long-term patrons tell them that they will quit coming and never come back if they are made to show proof of vaccination or negative test,” he said in a text message.

Aebig said there are still questions about how businesses can opt into a system that would require employees to show proof of vaccination.

A group that represents independent cannabis retailers complained that it was only informed this week of its inclusion in the group of non-essential businesses that must implement the proof of vaccination system.

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Jim Southam, vice-president of the Saskatchewan Independent Cannabis Retailers Network, said in a statement that members were informed late Tuesday by email from the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority that cannabis stores would be included.

Southam said the retail cannabis industry, along with liquor stores, has been considered essential since the start of the pandemic.

A news release from the province Thursday afternoon confirmed standalone retail cannabis and liquor stores will be among the venues that require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Southam said he’s concerned about the safety of employees who may have to tell customers about the requirement.

  1. Premier Scott Moe, left, shakes hands with Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, as he expresses his thanks for all the work Shahab has done for the province throughout the COVID-19 pandemic at the Legislative Building in Regina on July 7, 2021. LYNN GIESBRECHT / Regina Leader-Post

    Reversing course: COVID-19 fourth wave forces seismic shift in Sask.

  2. Premier Scott Moe, joined remotely by Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, addresses media in a press conference announcing mandatory masking and the implementation of a vaccine passport in response to rising COVID-19 infections and increased hospitalizations. Photo taken in Saskatoon, SK on Thursday, September 16, 2021.

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