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Hamilton businesses prepare to enforce proof-of-vaccination policy ahead of provincial rollout

Starting Wednesday, restaurants like this one in Hess Village will require customers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for indoor dining. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Hamilton is preparing its businesses for Ontario’s proof-of-vaccination policy going into effect on Wednesday.

Starting Sept. 22, patrons at certain “high risk” settings in the province will need to provide their ID and receipt of full vaccination against COVID-19 to enter places like gyms, recreation facilities, movie theatres, indoor dining at restaurants, and other non-essential businesses.

It will still be another month before Ontario rolls out a phone app with a QR code that businesses can scan at the door, which means employees will be required to manually check customers’ vaccination status by “visually verifying” the information on their receipt and their identification.

Marie Nash, chief operating officer for Hamilton’s Chamber of Commerce, said many business operators are happy about the vaccine certificate system but are nervous about facing a backlash at their front doors.

“We are hearing from businesses whose biggest concern this week is what will happen at the door,” said Nash during the city of Hamilton’s COVID-19 media briefing on Monday.

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“These businesses, a lot of them are already short-staffed, so this is an added layer of complexity.”

Read more: Ontario businesses, enforcement bodies brace for learning curve on COVID-19 vaccine certificate

Some of them have already been seeing “misinformed and unnecessary comments” on their social media pages, and Nash is pleading with Hamiltonians not to direct their anger at those businesses.

“These businesses, which have already faced a difficult year and continue to face obstacles, are doing what is required of them by the province. If you disagree with the proof of vaccine policy, please direct that to the appropriate people via the appropriate channels.”

Hamilton’s emergency operations director says bylaw officers will be doing “progressive enforcement” — focusing on educating businesses on what’s required and helping them become compliant with all existing rules.

“Our approach for the new passport system will be similar to what we’ve done in previous situations where there are new regulations and new rules put in place,” said Jason Thorne during Monday’s update.

“We are looking at making sure that we’re educating and explaining the rules when we’re out with businesses, helping them to become compliant.”

Read more: New details released on Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine certificates, non-compliance fines start at $750

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He added that there has been an “uptick” in businesses not complying with provincial regulations that have been in place for a while now — things like ensuring masks are worn and conducting contact tracing.

Over the past few days, bylaw officers have laid 22 charges against five different Hamilton businesses, as well as 14 fines at residences related to three large house parties.

Thorne also mentioned that the city has heard allegations that one particular piece of enforcement on Saturday was “racially motivated,” but did not disclose the name of the business involved.

“The city takes any allegations of unfair treatment very seriously, and we encourage anyone that does have concerns to file a formal complaint,” Thorne said.

In anticipation of the proof-of-vaccination policy going into effect, the city said it’s working with the Hamilton Public Library to offer free printing and lamination at all 23 of its branches for anyone who needs to print off their vaccine receipt from the provincial portal.

As of Tuesday, each HPL branch in the city will have a laminator available, along with a dedicated phone with a direct line to the Hamilton Public Health Services vaccine hotline for anyone who needs help getting their vaccine receipt.

Read more: Hamilton public health forecasts 120 COVID-19 cases per day by mid-October

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While Hamilton’s COVID-19 numbers have dropped recently, the city did have some of the highest rates of transmission in Ontario while the proof-of-vaccination program was in development.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city’s chief medical officer of health, confirmed that she was consulted by Ontario’s top doctor about which “high risk” settings the certificate program should impact.

“You’ll recall we’ve had transmission related to restaurants, to nightclubs, (and) we’ve historically had it related to fitness centres,” she said. “Our advice was echoed in the recommendations and ultimately the regulations that were put forward.”

As of Tuesday, 75.4 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 82.1 per cent have received their first dose.

Dr. Richardson said public health is continuing to hold more targeted vaccination clinics in neighbourhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and have lower vaccine uptake.

She said more than 100 doses were administered at a pop-up clinic at the Festival of Friends in Gage Park on Saturday, while a second pop-up clinic at Limeridge Mall held over the weekend saw over 350 people get a first or second dose.

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