Bars and restaurants scramble to prepare for Alberta’s vaccine exemption program

Some restaurants and bars in Edmonton are scrambling to prepare for business under the province’s restriction exemption program that starts Monday.

Businesses will need to ask for proof of immunization or a negative COVID-19 test result from a private company from within 72 hours, or operate at a reduced capacity.

The province announced the restrictions Wednesday evening and some business owners, while they understand the need for the measures, say the sudden change is only adding to their plate.

“For us to stay alive, we have to implement the vaccine program,” said Rajaa Berro, PM Lounge owner.

Unlike other provinces who announced vaccine passports, Alberta gave businesses only a few days notice.

“I am thankful that I have the option to stay open,” Berro said. “That, right now, is more important than anything… If that upsets some customers, I’m sorry.

“I’ve already heard from a couple customers on a regular basis, that I won’t see them for a while,” Berro added.

To better prepare for the new restrictions, PM Lounge hoped to hire more staff to check immunization records but it can’t afford to ⁠⁠— especially after the restriction from two weeks ago that alcohol not be served past 10 p.m. that unfairly impacted bars and restaurants, Berro said.

The official opposition is pushing for a new grant program to give businesses now on the frontlines of enforcement of the new measures adequate support.

“We have to provide support for these businesses once again because a lot of them are just barely hanging on,” said Rachel Notley, NDP leader. “There’s a lot of different ways in which (these new measures) can incur costs.”

Fleisch Delikatessen has been asking for proof of immunization for weeks.

“We know our community well, we know it’s what they want,” co-owner Katy Ingraham told CTV News Edmonton. “Not every business will have that.”

Ingraham said many restaurants have been reaching out to her for advice, including how to deal with pushback.

The local eatery had anti-vaccine proponents flood its online reviews with negativity due to their implementation of the measure.

“Hang in there and ride it out,” Ingraham added. “With more of us (implementing the measure) that’s not going to continue very long.”