Tensions rising over vaccine passports and COVID-19 restrictions in rural Alberta

CALGARY –

Rural Albertans are expressing mixed emotions to the provincial government’s latest vaccine passport and COVID restriction rules as the rate of active cases remains amongst the highest in their communities.

Despite the increasing spread of the virus, not everyone is wearing a mask inside stores and some businesses have chosen not to implement vaccine passports due to a fear of losing customers in the long-term.

Amit Arora, who owns the Damit Amit Butcher Shop in Didsbury says the vaccine passport and mask mandates have been a difficult subject to talk about in the town.

“Everyone has the right to their own opinion, whether you wear a mask or don’t wear a mask, I’m just here to do business,” he said.

“If we start saying you have to do this or that, we’re alienating a lot of our customers which is going to cause us to be shut down or losing business which no small business can afford right now.”

Arora admits that the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions has been confusing and wishes there was some widespread rules for all businesses to follow.

“I wish they would have said we’re doing this for everybody or we’re not doing it. Everyone is confused so their consistent message has to be that everyone is on the same page.”

“There are no consequences for doing good things, there’s a lot of rewards that have come from vaccinations and to me that ‘open for summer’ messaging was probably a bad idea.”

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY

Didsbury is located in the Mountain View county region of Alberta where active COVID case rates are amongst the highest with 702.3 active cases per 100,000 people. 

Meanwhile, the Town of Olds is also experiencing a high volume of cases with 756.1 active cases per 100,000 people.

That community is currently lagging behind the provincial average of eligible people fully vaccinated and it’s also in the Central Zone, where hospitalizations have spiked to become the most-hospitalized region per capita in Alberta.

Currently, just over 71 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have been fully immunized, but the vaccination rate in Olds sits just below 65 per cent.

Michael Ng, who owns the A&J Family Restaurant in Olds said the low vaccination rate forced him not to adopt the Restrictions Exemption Program.

He chose to offer only takeout service, which has since taken a 50 per cent chunk out of his revenue so far.

“I’ve seen lots of people get angry over it,” he said.

“I don’t want to mandate vaccines and I don’t want to have a bad customer come in here and then we end up getting into a fight or something, and then ruining my business.”

Olds Mayor Michael Muzychka said tensions have been rising in the town when it comes to getting vaccinated or masking up, but he urged everyone to respect each others’ opinions.

“It’s definitely tense, it’s certainly one of the hottest topics, but that’s why I reach out and urge people to please be respectful and I go out of my way to respect other people’s opinions,” he said.

“I’m encouraging everybody to stay as safe as humanly possible so please if you don’t have the vaccine, consult a medical professional, and do what’s right for you and your family,” he said.

Muzychka added that his community has been doing better than other communities with lower vaccination rates such as Ponoka County (57 per cent), Lacombe County (58 per cent), Red Deer County (54 per cent), and Didsbury (60 per cent).

He also hopes the province will take a regional mandate approach and adjust restrictions accordingly.

“I think a much clearer message under the Alberta government would be very helpful. Our stance here in the Town of Olds is that we definitely don’t have the resources to employ experts better than what the Alberta government can afford.”

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