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Frustrated with government efforts, business groups push plan to avoid lockdowns

Among the items on the group's agenda will be coming up with ways to encourage employees to get vaccinated and protocols for using rapid tests.
cp lockdown chamber
Businessmen cast shadows as they walk in Toronto's financial district on Feb. 27, 2012. A group of corporate executives who say they are frustrated with federal and provincial governments are organizing to come up with their own pandemic management plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA — Frustrations with government efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic has led major businesses in this country to decide to take some matters into their own hands to avoid further lockdowns.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is unveiling this morning an advisory group of 20 chief and senior executives to help businesses large and small manage their operations through restrictions and public health concerns.

Among the group are the presidents of vaccine-makers Pfizer Canada and Providence Therapeutics, as well as executives from Shoppers Drug Mart, WestJet and BlackBerry.

Chamber president Perrin Beatty says the businesses involved will look for ways to protect their employees and customers and help with vaccination efforts.

Among the items on the group's agenda will be coming up with ways to encourage employees to get vaccinated and protocols for using rapid tests that have languished in warehouses despite repeated requests from companies for their use.

Beatty says the lack of government strategy on the use of rapid tests is a real challenge to reopening parts of the economy safely.

He says doing nothing until everyone gets vaccinated will take time, and businesses have to be willing to do whatever it can to help hurry the pace of shots and the use of personal protective equipment.

"It's not simply sitting on the sidelines and telling government what they should be doing, but taking what actions businesses can themselves to help to protect their customers and their employees," Beatty says.

The chamber and other business groups have pushed governments for months to use rapid tests as one way to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic instead of cycling between lockdowns and reopenings.

There is also a growing sense that public officials don't seem to be learning lessons from previous cycles, leading to what some businesses believe is an ineffective approach.

"There are frustrations there, but the goal is not to be critical of government, it is to assist government and to do everything that we can, either in concert with government or by ourselves, to be able to protect public health and to hurry reopening," Beatty says.

He adds that time is of the essence for some corners of the economy, including small and medium-sized businesses and the country's tourism sector that is planning for the summer travel season.

Tourism season was mostly a washout last year as travel plummeted, and there are concerns that this year could be the same if tour operators, for instance, don't know if a hotel or restaurant is going to be open or a festival taking place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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