COVID-19: How are Alberta businesses adjusting to loosened health measures?

Click to play video: 'Is Alberta’s plan to remove all COVID-19 restrictions risky for business?' Is Alberta’s plan to remove all COVID-19 restrictions risky for business?
Alberta’s business community has mixed reactions to the province’s plan to remove all COVID-19 restrictions. Tomasia DaSilva – Jul 29, 2021

Some Alberta businesses are looking at the province’s plans to further loosen COVID-19 health measures as another step in the right direction for the hospitality industry.

Over the next month, remaining protocols like contact tracing and mandatory isolation requirements for people with COVID-19 are being eliminated as the province moves into an endemic response to the novel coronavirus.

Read more: Alberta to adjust COVID-19 masking, isolation, testing rules over next month

“I’m glad that we’re moving forward,” said Jeff Jamieson, the co-owner of Donna Mac and an Alberta Hospitality Association board member.

“We at the association have always decided that it was best to listen to the experts, and the when experts are telling us we’re heading in the right direction, then we’re going to continue to listen to the experts.”

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Jamieson said his businesses will be “completely open” while keeping health practices like sanitization and fewer tables top of mind.

At Co-op stores in Calgary — which were the first to make masks mandatory for staff and customers — the no mask-no entry rule is being eliminated for customers, and wearing a face covering will be optional moving forward. Staff are still required to wear them for the next few weeks.

“We think easing things up in a measured, diligent manner is good,” Ken Keelor said. “We’d rather take a little bit of heat for being more cautious than taking away restrictions too quickly.”

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No more masks on transit, isolation of positive COVID-19 cases come Aug. 16 in Alberta – Jul 28, 2021

Jamieson said pushback from some customers is to be expected no matter what businesses decide, adding it’s a “difficult decision” for those behind the scenes.

“Some of our members are going to continue to have some restrictions — barriers in place, masking — and that’s completely and entirely a decision that’s up to them and we’re going to support them either way,” he said.

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The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said the business community in the city was surprised by the changes, and is looking for ways to continue to keep employees and customers safe.

Read more: Amid pushback, Alberta health minister defends plan to ease COVID-19 isolation, masking, testing rules

Chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said some businesses are concerned about certainty as they move forward, and what kind of impact these restrictions might have on consumer behaviour.

“There may be people now that say they were going to come to visit Alberta, but now they’re not as comfortable with where things are at from a restrictions perspective, and they may choose not to come,” Yedlin said.

“So from that perspective, we could see some changes in behaviour, particularly in how we’re viewed when it comes to other jurisdictions.”

Yedlin said the loosened health measures could also hurt some businesses if people are worried they could unknowingly catch the virus by dining at a restaurant or shopping at a store.

“This is going to cause another level of uncertainty,” she said. “And I think at the end of the day, what we want, what businesses want, is certainty.”

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According to Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor of law at the University of Calgary, there’s nothing illegal about businesses maintaining their own COVID-19 health protocols such as masking or physical distancing. However, the change in provincial protocol brings a change in enforcing individual health measures.

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“If a business wants to impose its own requirements, it can. The only real limit on that business is that they can’t discriminate against people,” she said.

“If a business voluntarily imposes public health restrictions like… masks, they do have to think about how they’re going to accommodate people who can’t wear masks for health reasons.”

Read more: COVID-19 vaccines are now mandatory at some U.S. companies. Could Canada be next?

Hardcastle said when it comes to businesses implementing new health and safety measures for employees, it would be no different than enforcing existing staff requirements on things like washing hands and sanitizing surfaces.

“Your employer can impose… restrictions and rules and have policies in the workplace and those don’t have to be dictated by by public health authorities,” she said.

“Even if they’re doing something that’s no longer mandated, that doesn’t mean an employee can refuse to do it because employees are still bound to follow the policies and procedures set out by their employers.”

— With files from Tomasia DaSilva, Global News

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