Inconsistencies in Sask QR code checks

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So you’re scared of being tracked, but you have your phone with you everywhere you go...I see... Markus Winkler via Unsplash

The government may have mandated QR codes, but nobody was prepared to implement

Since October 1, the people of Saskatchewan are expected to provide proof that they are fully vaccinated to access a variety of businesses and services. While there is a list of places that are exempt as they are deemed essential services, this requirement has been received well by many as being essential to public health and safety. At the same time, no small number of people are concerned that this represents an overreach by the provincial government. While I do not agree with the latter, it can be emphasized that even if the government did not get this done, many private businesses likely would have done so anyway.

Nevertheless, the government did act. True to their standards ever since the beginning of the pandemic though, they only did so in a manner than leaves much to be desired. Firstly, the list of places that are exempted from requiring a proof of vaccination made little sense to me. Why are restaurants supposed to check for one, but not hotels? In what way is my staying for one meal a potential public health risk, but if I am staying multiple days and nights, sleeping in a hotel bed, and using other hotel facilities, all is well? I certainly hope that hotels require such proof through their own initiative. The last thing we need is an outbreak in a hotel during a busy weekend when all rooms are booked.

If I recall correctly, the policy about having to provide proof of vaccination was announced on September 15, to come into effect October 1. This means that the people of this province had around two weeks to create an online SaskHealth account and obtain the document which included their vaccine information and QR code. Two weeks is already cutting it close, and it certainly was not helped by the excruciatingly slow and roundabout process of creating an online account. On top of this, the SHA announced that the machine-readable QR codes would take some more time to be made available online.

I had to try four times before successfully obtaining the two-page document, with the QR code on the first page and the same information in a human-readable table on the second. During one of these four attempts, I saw an error message that I had not seen in the last decade – one about how the server is unable to handle the number of requests it is currently getting. Based on the experience in my day job, I can tell you this is a problem that could have been foreseen and solved by spending at most a couple of hundred dollars. When the government tells a province of a million people that they will need to go online and obtain a document and gives them roughly two weeks to do so, the government better invest in some server infrastructure for the kind of demands they just set themselves up for.

I did obtain the document eventually. I put it on my phone and walked into a restaurant, head held high. When asked to provide proof of vaccination, I opened the file. The staff member scanned the QR code, and all the necessary information popped up. This person even cross-referenced the name with my photo ID. All was well, I placed my order, and thought that maybe the initial jitters of this proof of vaccination business are over. As I soon found out though, not all businesses are being as mindful.

See, the QR code needs to be scanned by the relevant SHA app. The next time I was at a restaurant, the staff member asked me for proof. When I held it out for her, she looked at the QR code and nodded me in. Did you get that part? She just looked at it, with her bare eyes! Eyes that I am sure cannot read QR codes, let alone then interface with the SHA app to verify all the information.

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe what I am concerned about was a somewhat lackadaisical human-robot equipped to read QR codes and go online all in less time than it takes me to say “Here you g-…” I guess I will never find out. However, I am now once again deciding to forego restaurants until I can be sure they are scanning QR codes and matching the name with a photo ID. Either that, or news that a certain restaurant has secretly been employing cyborgs…

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