Local business groups hope for an economic rebound with the end of vaccine passports


Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo business leaders hope the end of Alberta’s vaccine passport program will help the region’s economic growth.

Vaccine passports, which Alberta called the Restrictions Waiver Program (REP), ended at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 8. The end of the program is part of a three-step plan to end COVID-19 restrictions.

Dianna De Sousa, executive director of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview Thursday that she doesn’t like companies being pressured into accepting REP.

“Companies were not happy. This has had a significant impact on their business, especially the hospitality industry,” De Sousa said.

She heard no complaints about the programs ending. But, De Sousa said she was aware that some people who disagreed with the program ending might be reluctant to go to restaurants, movie theaters or other businesses that are part of the REP.

Kevin Weidlich, president and CEO of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT), said the easing of restrictions puts the region on a path to economic growth.

FMWBEDT has already started discussions with investors and developers interested in the region. The group will soon release a five-year economic and tourism development strategy, Weidlich said.

“The gradual lifting of restrictions means the reopening of our economy. Residents of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo should view this with optimism,” he said.

Other commercial organizations in the province are not happy with the end of the vaccine passport program.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce called his sudden end “like ripping off the bandage before the wound healed.” President and CEO Deborah Yedlin said businesses could see lower revenues if Albertans choose to stay home with no restrictions in place.

The Alberta Hospitality Association (AHA) said removing vaccine passports but keeping additional restrictions — such as stopping alcohol sales at 11 p.m. or table capacity limits — isn’t helping. these companies in difficulty.

Stage 2 of the reopening plan begins March 1. The mask mandate and restrictions on schools will end, as will health screenings before youth activities. Social gatherings and capacity limits will be lifted, as will work-from-home orders.

Step 3 will end all remaining health orders. Mandatory quarantines will become optional. This will depend on hospitalization rates.

-With files by Dylan Short

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