Workplace Recovery and Accelerating Vaccine Deployment: What Business Needs from Government

Businesses want to get their operations back on track before the mass vaccination campaign is completed. This includes companies that have a customer-facing environment and businesses that want to enable their workforce to come back into the office.

Reopening will not be easy task for all companies.

According to the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions by Statistics Canada:

  • 24% of businesses expect difficulty maintaining sufficient cash flow or managing debt
  • 60% of businesses reported a revenue drop in 2020
  • 44% of businesses reported higher expenses in 2020
  • 60% of businesses have not remained fully operational during the pandemic.

Governments at all levels must support businesses to enable economic activity to safely resume by providing the public health framework to let businesses get on with the job.

According to our polling done by Abacus Data, those businesses that moved to working from home said the following conditions had to be met before going back to the workplace some or most of the time:

  • Limiting numbers of staff onsite to allow for distancing: 85%
  • Most Canadians (>70% have been vaccinated): 79%
  • Most coworkers have been vaccinated: 79%
  • Everyone must wear masks at all times: 77%
  • There is mandatory rapid screening or testing for coworkers at least once or twice per week: 69%

For more information about the poll, click here.

Given its lack of use to date, rapid screening is a good tool but unsurprisingly less popular than other tools more widely known and promoted by governments. Providing clear guidance that is nationally consistent will increase business, employee and consumer trust. These measures — if implemented — would also enable targeted lockdowns rather than broad sweeping measures.

Governments and businesses also have a role to play in accelerating the deployment of vaccines. This includes using expedited distribution models and building confidence amongst employees and the general population.

Key Asks

Businesses want to be able to implement public health measures to protect employees and customers but remain overwhelmed with the plethora and changing nature of guidance. This is likely to continue as vaccination rates increase. The Public Health Agency of Canada and provincial, territorial and regional governments should undertake the following actions:

  • Governments should implement/enforce fines for customers who disregard COVID-19 measures to help companies enforce safety protocols confidently, including mask mandates. Keep these in place until herd immunity is achieved.
  • Ensure strong support for mask mandates in the general public to reduce community transmission of the virus (e.g. in schools at lower grade levels and in social settings), which will lower infections brought into the workplace.
  • Provide federal and provincial guidance on what new variants mean for business operations, particularly isolation requirements. This advice needs to be clear and consistent across jurisdictions in Canada to support companies that operate in multiple regions. For example, Alberta has extended self-isolation rules for new variant cases to up to 24 days. Other jurisdictions are also updating their advice around facemasks.
  • Contact tracing needs to be augmented versus its current levels as it cannot keep pace with the rise of COVID-19 cases. Employers can help in workplace contact tracing, but it requires guidance on process and close contact definitions across jurisdictions as well as requiring individuals to disclose a positive COVID-19 case status to their employer (who retains obligations for maintaining confidentiality). Digital solutions are being explored but have varying degrees of effectiveness.
  • Provide a template and set expectations for businesses on reporting positive cases to employees and customers. Developing a common set of guidelines for companies will empower workers, consumers and travellers to make informed choices with consistent information. Supplement this with a proactive promotion campaign to increase business uptake by promoting the benefits of transparency.
  • Enhance the COVID-19 Alert App by ensuring all positive cases are loaded into one tracing app by undertaking the following measures:
    • Mandate provincial and territorial governments to upload positive PCR test results onto the alert app
    • Mandate private medical testing centres to upload a positive PCR test result onto the COVID alert app
  • Where lockdowns are imposed, provide a minimum of 72 hours’ notice, preferably seven days, so that companies have time to reduce the cost burden and scheduling impact.

With herd immunity through mass vaccinations still months away, we must rely on a strong regime of testing and rapid screening to get people confidently working, travelling and being together again. This is a critical enabler to an economic recovery even with vaccines. Whether PCR or antigen tests, there are a range of deployment methods. The tools are available, and government can help to make them widely accessible and affordable and encourage businesses to adopt workplace rapid screening. 

  • Enable asymptomatic testing for workplace purposes at government test locations to support companies that cannot do tests onsite.
  • Have standardized training and standards alignment across the country on task-shifting, which will enable trained laypersons to take on greater responsibilities.
  • Companies that rapid screen should be allowed to remain open in the event of broad lockdown measures.

Along with our provincial and territorial chambers, we’ve asked the premiers to reduce barriers for businesses to deploy rapid screening. To read our open letter, click here.

Canada needs to achieve herd immunity as expeditiously as possible. Getting Canada there involves both finding innovative ways to quickly distribute vaccines and building the highest levels of confidence amongst Canadians. 

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada should publish evidence-based guidance for what vaccinated Canadians can and cannot do as it relates to workplace settings, including those that have received a single dose or two doses given waits of up to four months for a second dose. This should be positioned as a positive incentive to increase vaccine uptake.
  • Vaccines are a critical tool to reduce workplace transmission of the virus. However, given finite supplies and distribution channels, prioritization is inevitable. The vaccine deployment should prioritize essential workers unable to work from home who are in high-traffic and customer-facing environments, especially where contact tracing is not possible. This builds on the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) that specifically flag frontline workers who have direct close physical contact with the general public.
  • The private sector’s expertise in deploying complex logistical projects should be leveraged by governments to reach more people quicker with vaccines. Provinces should look to emulate Quebec’s vacciner en enterprises effort.
  • Vaccine confidence is supported by individual-level contacts between friends and family. Governments should enable Canadians to leverage the power of social media to share positive stories with friends and family about getting vaccinated. Health authorities can practically support this by allowing Canadians to take pictures of themselves getting vaccinated onsite while ensuring the privacy of healthcare workers and others at the clinic.

For more details on vaccines, visit our Canadian Business Vaccine Resources Hub, click here.

To download our one-page Talking to Your Employees about Vaccines Guide, click here.