Quebec big-box stores to require vaccine passports for entry, owners fear loss in revenue

Many large big-box stores in Quebec will require a vaccine passport for entry come Jan. 24 as part of a shift in COVID-19 health measures introduced by the provincial government earlier this week. Some retailers say that it could make for an overall loss in revenue, even if it does encourage more people to get their shot. 

The measure will apply to businesses larger than 1,500 square metres. Pharmacies and grocery stores are exempt.

“The industry will comply obviously, as it has over last two years,” said Michel Rochette, president of the Retail Council of Canada.

“(Large stores) already have lot to deal with to maintain the minimal level of supply of services,” he continued. “They are dealing with lineups there, and new ones will be added.”

Retail stores already have limited capacity and mask mandates to help prevent spread within their premises. The updated rules have pushed some retailers to speak out against them, even those who support the vaccination campaign.

Blaise Renaud, president of Groupe Renaud-Bray, says added COVID-19 restrictions means he needs more staff to enforce them.

“We operate our stores, the largest ones, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” he said. “So, for me to pay three extra full-time staff to control the three doors of that store will completely change the economic ratio and force us probably to reduce our operating hours.”

The big-box rules are the latest measure in a widening arsenal of incentives, and consequences, put in place by Quebec leadership to convince unvaccinated residents to schedule their appointments.

Quebec’s cannabis and alcohol retailers are also set to require vaccine passports for the same reason starting on Monday.

“If you can demonstrate to people why there is practical reason to get vaccinate, it does help to move needle a little on people who otherwise wouldn't go an make first appointment,” said epidemiologist and cardiologist Dr. Christopher Labos.

“I think there is a two-fold benefit: they encourage people to go and get vaccinated, and they do make the retail shopping experience a little bit safer.”

As of Friday, 90 per cent of eligible Quebecers (aged five and up) have gotten their first dose, 82 per cent have gotten two, and 29 per cent have gotten boosted.

While Omicron has spread widely among both vaccinated and not, the vaccine has been shown to provide protection against serious infection.

Unvaccinated people are 6.6 times more likely to end up in hospital after getting sick, and 13.2 times more likely to need the ICU. 

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