What we all feared has come to pass – COVID-19 case numbers are increasing and Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table confirmed that we are indeed bracing for a fourth wave of the pandemic.
In many ways we’re ready for it. Ontario is better equipped to deal with the pandemic than we were at its onset. We have a deeper understanding of the virus, our hospitals are more prepared, our vaccination rates are high and, importantly, we are now aware of global best practices and mitigation strategies being adopted around the world.
In one way, we are not yet ready. Among the best of these mitigation strategies: proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test to access non-essential businesses.
As co-chairs of Canada’s Innovation Corridor Business Council, representing 16 chambers of commerce and boards of trade and hundreds of thousands of enterprises – most of them small businesses. From Toronto to Oshawa and Milton to Kitchener-Waterloo, these businesses are unequivocal in their stance. If this fourth wave produces another lockdown, they will not survive.
This isn’t a matter of a few local shops and eateries shuttering their doors for good. We’re facing the facts that thousands of businesses will each be carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars of new debt, risking job security and the potential of closure. This will be a huge blow to the Innovation Corridor’s economy – which is the province’s largest economic zone, generating more than $360 billion in annual GDP.
The best chance we have at avoiding another lockdown is with what we’re calling COVID Safe Passes. Similar digital tools are being used around the world to verify COVID safety either through a recent negative test or through proof of vaccination.
Businesses across the Corridor believe in the right of individuals to choose whether or not to get vaccinated. But we also believe that we need a better way of managing this virus, one that allows for our economy to remain open and for life to resume. This is now particularly important since it appears that unvaccinated members of our communities – including children under the age of 12 – are at higher risk of transmission.
A provincial framework is the best way forward. Individual cities and businesses may be designing their own vaccination policies and practices, but our regional economy is highly interconnected. Someone who lives in Mississauga might work in Brampton and then enjoy a baseball game in Toronto. We need one system, one pass, for the entire province. Anything less would be ineffective, confusing or redundant.
COVID Safe Passes are also becoming more popular because they protect individuals’ privacy while allowing economies to stay open, and we’re encouraged that the federal government is introducing a version of this for international travel. Now is the time for Ontario to expeditiously work with the Government of Canada to institute some form of a digital COVID Safe Pass system that will keep our economy open.
One thing we can all agree on – lockdowns must be avoided moving forward and at all costs. Lockdowns are an admission that we have failed to keep our economy and people safe, and they have unimaginably high social and economic costs. Luckily, with tools like the COVID Safe Pass, they are no longer our only option. We can open, re-open, and stay open – safely.
On behalf of the business community of the Innovation Corridor, we urge the provincial government to adopt and implement a digital proof of vaccination program like the COVID Safe Pass as soon as possible and provide guidelines to businesses on how to use it. Ontarians want this, businesses want this, and our economy needs this. We must avoid another general lockdown at all costs.
Ian McLean, President and CEO of the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, and Jan De Silva, President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, co-chair Canada’s Innovation Corridor Business Council.