Quebec retailers see ‘ambiguities’ in new vaccine passport rule

Major retailers in the province say there are “many unanswered questions” about how to enforce the new vaccine passport requirement.

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More than 24 hours after Quebec opted to extend the vaccine passport to big-box stores, retailers across the province are still unsure how to apply the new restriction.

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Premier François Legault said Thursday that the vaccine passport would become mandatory from January 24 at big-box retailers such as Costco, Walmart and Canadian Tire. Small stores – less than 1,500 square meters, or about 16,000 square feet – and common areas in shopping malls will be exempt from the measure, as will retailers that derive most of their business from selling food or pharmaceutical operations, added Legault.

Hardware stores, which Quebec considered essential businesses at the start of the pandemic, are no longer recognized as such.

Retailers are now waiting for the government to issue the official decree outlining the details of the new requirement next week. Key uncertainties include whether to give unvaccinated customers access to certain services for emergency repairs and how to deal with people who refuse to be bitten for medical reasons, officials said. industry.

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“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Jean-Guy Côté, president of the Quebec Retail Council, which represents the majority of retailers and distributors in the province. “We know when the new requirement will come into effect and the size of stores that will be affected, but not much else.”

Retailers such as Walmart, whose locations include large drugstore and grocery sections, appear to pose a particular challenge to regulators. Until the Quebec decree is released, it is unclear whether unvaccinated Walmart customers who wish to be vaccinated at the store’s pharmacy will be denied entry due to the vaccine passport requirement, per example.

“We invite unvaccinated people to visit businesses that do not require vaccination passports to access the services they need,” Laura Fitzback, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, said by email on Friday. . “Unvaccinated people can also use the delivery or pick-up services in the parking lot. Remember that it is not yet too late to receive your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. »

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Walmart “will take the time to thoroughly review the next official government order,” Adam Grachnik, the company’s Canadian head of general affairs, said Friday via email. “Ensuring a secure customer experience remains a top priority.”

Confusion also surrounds access to operations such as Canadian Tire’s vehicle services, which are typically adjacent to company stores. Canadian Tire did not immediately respond Friday to an emailed request for comment about the new vaccine passport requirement.

“There are a lot of ambiguities that need to be clarified,” said Michel Rochette, president of the Quebec office of the Retail Council of Canada, in an interview. His group represents approximately 15,000 store operators in the province.

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Lowe’s Canada, owner of hardware chains Rona and Réno-Dépôt, intends to “follow public health regulations and will adjust business practices accordingly to provide a safe shopping experience for all of our customers,” said Friday an unidentified spokesperson via email. “Our home delivery, car pickup and pick up locker services are options that remain available to all of our customers.”

On Friday, bookseller Groupe Renaud-Bray blasted the new measure, calling it “unfair” and “punishing” and urging Quebec to back down. Renaud-Bray, who operates several stores larger than 1,500 square meters, also warned that opening hours may need to be reduced due to the new requirement.

“The government has misjudged the impacts of this policy,” President Blaise Renaud said in a statement.

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Quebec retailers are already operating at half normal capacity due to government constraints announced last month.

Like most other industries, retail is struggling with a severe shortage of employees. As many as 25,000 retail jobs were vacant in the province in September, according to Statistics Canada.

To make matters worse, absenteeism is on the rise as the Omicron variant gains traction. At least 20 percent of staff at some Quebec retailers called in sick at various times during the holiday season, Rochette said.

“Asking retailers to verify the vaccine passport may not seem like much, but it’s a big deal during a major labor shortage,” Rochette said. The new measure “will create queues that did not exist before. Even vaccinated customers might get angry. We don’t want to see any altercations as a result of this.

Safety “is our biggest concern,” Côté added. “We have seen recent examples in the media of unvaccinated people behaving aggressively. This is the concern I hear the most from our members. Retailers have to enforce regulations on behalf of the government, but sometimes people don’t respond very well. »

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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