Leave your contact details when you dine: Restaurants take personal information to trace COVID-19


TORONTO – As COVID-19 restrictions ease and restaurants begin to welcome customers again, Canadians may soon have to get used to providing their personal information before taking a bite. Restaurant guidelines vary in each province. But some jurisdictions require a customer’s name and phone number or email address, along with their table number, to make it easier to trace contracts in the event of an outbreak.

Ontario announced Friday that it will require bars and restaurants to keep customer records for 30 days. These should be disclosed to the medical officer of health or an inspector if tracing is required.

In Toronto, information collection can be done at the time of reservations or through another system, said Toronto Public Health spokesperson Vinita Dubey.

Dubey said indoor bars and restaurants pose a higher level of risk of transmitting COVID-19 because they involve crowds, close contact and closed spaces.

“As soon as (Toronto Public Health) becomes aware of a case of COVID-19, we act on the information to follow up immediately,” Dubey said in an email.

Similar guidelines apply to restaurants and bars in British Columbia.

Public health officials in that province have started requiring restaurants to collect personal information from customers when making reservations or when seated. Details should also be kept for a month.

Since its reopening, Vancouver’s Acorn Restaurant is only taking reservations, making it easier to collect customer information.

“Fortunately, our guests were very understanding,” said founder Shira Blustein. “Some of the guests were just as eager to go out, so they like our plan. ”

Gerald Evans, president of the infectious disease division at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., Said contact tracing was done in restaurants even before COVID-19.

Public health officials have used reservation lists to contact diners in the event of a foodborne outbreak, he said.

“It’s not unprecedented in the restaurant industry for public health to reach out to them and get this kind of information. ”

Evans said one downside is that there is no way to verify that the information a customer provides is correct.

“Now 99% of the audience is going to be honest, but what do you do with the 1%? ” He asked.

If people giving false information become a problem, governments could potentially step in to ensure people have to show ID to verify their identity, Evans suggested.

He said collecting information about customers is much more effective than “passive tracing,” in which public health makes a broad announcement about a case at a specific restaurant on a certain day. This practice has been criticized by some restaurateurs.

Restaurants Canada vice-president David Lefebvre said there were costs associated with collecting personal data. And it can take a while for places that provide fast service to many customers.

“Our position as an association on this is this: let’s make sure that everyone, as a recommendation, meets the public health requirements,” he said.

“But at the same time, let’s make sure it’s not something that gets too expensive and costs too much. ”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 2, 2020


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