Do you have your passport? Quebecers now have until September 15 before the vaccination passport, which came into effect last week, will be enforced across the province. Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 is now required to participate in a significant number of activities, including eating in restaurants, frequenting bars or gyms, or attending sporting events or festivals. Valley businesses are now adapting to accommodate the imposed measure, which is part of the province’s attempts to quell rising COVID-19 rates this fall while avoiding another lockdown.
The Gleaner reached out to several local restaurants and bars to find out how the passport was being received. While very few business owners wanted to go on record when asked about it, almost all reported that in the earliest days of the program things seemed to be going well.
Owners may be hesitant to speak about the passports because vaccination has become such a contentious issue that any attempt to react or comment on it can easily be misinterpreted.
For example, a recent notice posted to Quinn Farm’s social media accounts, informing customers that a passport was not required to visit the site, was met with unintended attention. “It seems our post has been taken over by people who are against the passport – congratulating us, when in fact we were just informing our customers that the passport would not be required, as is the case on all farms,” says co-owner Stephanie Maynard. “We really weren’t looking to make waves, but it seems people are really divided on this topic,” she explains.
As many activities offered at Quinn Farm fall into the essential services category, the owners have been very careful to ensure guidelines are being followed. Maynard says they began checking the government website listing places and activities requiring a passport as soon as the announcement was made. “It was really frustrating to look at the exhaustive list of types of business on the page, like dog training, car rallies, go-karting, etc., and once again be forgotten as agritourism,” Maynard says, noting they only received word on August 29 from the UPA that agritourism sites such as Quinn Farm and many of the Valley orchards would continue to be considered essential services.
A single set of guidelines does not exist for agritourism businesses. Rather, depending on the services offered on site, they can be considered an essential service for u-pick activities, but must then follow guidelines for grocery stores at kiosks, stores or boutiques, rules for transportation for wagon rides, and restaurant regulations for food service. It quickly becomes a lot to manage, especially during a season when finding staff has been more difficult. For some, such as Quinn Farm, the situation has led to some hard decisions.
“Normally, we serve food at lunch – things like roasted corn, sausages, pulled pork, soup, chili – and people sit at picnic tables to eat. This part of our business has to follow the same rules as restaurants, so we would have to check passports for everyone,” says Maynard.
The rules are not clear about picnic areas and whether visitors who bring their own food to a site must show proof of vaccination before accessing such spaces. Maynard says that after weighing the logistics of scanning passports and/or limiting access to their picnic area to one point of entry, they decided it was just easier to stop their meal service and focus on snacks and takeaway foods instead.
“We’re not necessarily against the passport, we just knew that we would struggle to find sufficient staff in order to do it properly and the next best thing for keeping people safe was to just remove the picnic tables and not allow people to eat meals on site,” she says. The decision will cost the farm in terms of revenue, but, says Maynard, she is more concerned about the loss of convenience for families who have now lost an easy lunch option.
Vaccine passports are not required to access most agritourism activities taking place on a farm or in an orchard, but they will be required to attend agricultural fairs or festivals. Wherever vaccine passports are required, it will be necessary to show a scannable QR code that is printed on paper, stored as a PDF on a mobile phone or tablet, or visible within the downloadable VaxiCode application.
Those who do not have access to the internet, a mobile device, or a printer, may call 1-877-644-4545 to request their paper proof of vaccination be sent in the mail. More information on the vaccination passport and where it will be required can be found online at Quebec.ca.