Lethbridge businesses react to Alberta’s COVID-19 restriction exemption program

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WATCH ABOVE: So far the new Restriction Exemption Program announced late Wednesday is raising more questions than answers for some business owners in Lethbridge. Jessica Robb explains why – Sep 16, 2021

“I can’t believe we’re doing this again,” Angel Harper said on Thursday morning.

Harper is a co-owner and operator of Mocha Cabana Bistro, a restaurant in Lethbridge.

She said new public health measures and the restriction exemption program announced by the Alberta government on Wednesday have left her feeling a wave of emotions as the province tries to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re going to have vaccine passports and we’re going to put more restrictions (in place) when they’ve (provincial government) been saying we’re open and we’re not going to do vaccine passports,” Harper said with tears starting to fill her eyes. “And then we get four days notice to more restrictions and vaccine passports — that’s not enough time for businesses to pivot.”

Read more: Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine passport, new restrictions: How things are going to change

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Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, chief medical of officer Dr. Deena Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu held a news conference on Wednesday to announce the new rules. Some of the announced public health measures took effect on Thursday, while others, including the restriction exemption program, take effect on Monday.

Unlike other provinces who have adopted a vaccine passport, the restriction exemption program is voluntary for non-essential businesses. If proof of vaccination is required, then restrictions will not apply. If not, restrictions will remain in place. If someone isn’t vaccinated, they can provide a privately-paid negative rapid or PCR COVID-19 test result acquired within the last 72 hours. Those tests normally cost between $20 and $40. Test results from Alberta Health Services or Alberta Precision Laboratories will not be allowed.

A clarification from Steve Buick, a spokesperson for Shandro’s office, said that restrictions do not apply to businesses that follow the exemption requirements, other than masking. The 10 p.m. liquor service cutoff will longer apply, but masking will.

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“It should be about doing what’s right for your neighbour, or the elderly lady across the street, or the person that you’ve never met in your life but you’re a carrier and you walked into a room and got somebody sick with it,” said Kieth Carlson, owner and operator of Roy’s Place, a restaurant in Claresholm.

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Carlson has been vocal on social media about the need for a proof-of-vaccination program.

“Now it becomes a responsibility of our clientele to bring in a piece of paper that says they’re theoretically able to come into a restaurant that the government has half-mandated, half-not mandated to be allowed to come in,” he said.

Both restaurants will take part in the program and will require proof of vaccination, but they worry about the young staff working for them who will be forced to be the enforcement.

Read more: Alberta doctors, businesses react to new COVID-19 measures, vaccine passport

“Customers arguing, refusing to wear masks at the door, and frankly kids just don’t need this stress,” said Harper. “We just want to serve you food and create a great guest experience.”

Carlson said he’ll be working the door at Roy’s Place when the changes come into effect.

“Visiting with folks and ensuring there’s an education factor that goes on with it,” he said. “Hopefully we’re able to change their thought patterns in some way, shape or form so they’re not yelling at a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old person who is just trying to do their job.”

In a recent survey from the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, of the 460 business owners and managers who responded, 81 per cent said they are against proof-of-vaccination requirements.

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“There’s that frustration but how do we make it work and that was the point of the survey?” said Cyndi Vos, CEO of the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce. “What will we be able to put into place?”

Read more: How each major Alberta college is operating under the state of public health emergency

Vos said they plan to have an answer for businesses by Monday, when the new program comes into effect. She’s hoping for a win-win situation for everyone.

“We need public and private businesses to succeed. We need our community to succeed. We need our health-care system to succeed. And to have that, ‘Well it’s up to you attitude,’ is a challenging attitude for us to navigate through,” she said.

In the end, Vos, Harper and Carlson all ask for the same thing from customers.

“Staff are tired, the businesses are tired, you’re tired,” said Vos. “So be patient.”

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