OTTAWA -- As Ottawa businesses reopen under Step 3 of Ontario's COVID-19 economic reopening plan, the head of the Ottawa Board of Trade suggests rising COVID-19 vaccine rates, continued use of rapid tests in businesses, and the possibility of a vaccine passport could prevent further lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

President and CEO Sueling Ching is calling on governments to create policies and programs to help us to live with COVID and keep the economy open moving forward.

Ottawa and Ontario entered Step 3 of the reopening plan on Friday, allowing indoor dining rooms, movie theatres, museums and fitness centres to reopen, along with relaxing some restrictions on other businesses.

"I think that we have a lot of opportunities in front of us," said Ching in an interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA Saturday morning when asked about Ottawa's economic recovery.

"I think we've learned a lot of lessons over the course of the last 16, 17 months that we may not have otherwise learned and now the opportunity is for us to leverage that and to move forward so that we can grow back, rebuild our economy and perhaps even take advantage of new opportunities that weren't there before."

Earlier this week, Ching told Newstalk 580 CFRA the Ottawa Board of Trade supports the idea of a vaccine passport in Ontario for non-essential businesses to show customers and staff have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Ching told 580 CFRA on Saturday that now is the time to be "pragmatic."

"For some time now, we have been calling for policies and programs that would allow us to live with COVID. So whether there will be an uptick (in cases), it's just common sense isn't it – when the summer is over and everyone's back to school and we're fully reopened, but we've learned a lot of things compared to where we were at this time last year," said Ching.

"We've got a lot of businesses who have put protocols in place to keep people safe, we have more information about what that means, the general public understands how their behaviour affects that and we have tools like rapid testing, like vaccine passports possibly – those kinds of things we can put in place.

"What we're asking for is the opportunity to create an environment where businesses don't have to be locked down, and that the harms from continual lockdowns we don't want them to start to outweigh the actual harms from COVID-19 itself."

Premier Doug Ford said he is not in favour of a vaccine passport for non-essential businesses. Ching says officials in Ottawa have been talking with private sector companies about the possibility of setting up digital tracking for visitors and international travellers, along with in workplaces.

The Ottawa Board of Trade has distributed rapid testing kits to small and medium sized businesses for staff testing this spring.

"It's part of being able to bolster consumer and business confidence by saying we have a plan to resume normal activities, and that is a part of our plan."

Ching says entrepreneurs and businesses have been the "hardest hit" during the COVID-19 pandemic, and governments need to make sure lockdowns never happen again.

"Just the stress and harms that have happened overall to our society and our economy as we've tried to implement, I understand, countermeasures to prevent the spread of COVID. So now that we have the vaccines, we have more knowledge, we have better behaviours, we want to create an environment in which we can keep our economy open," said Ching.

The President and the CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade says one of the lessons learned is that the economy can no longer be separated from public health policy.

"Businesses that have been resilient for these last 16 or 17 months, they're fatigued. What we really want is for us as residents and for the government to provide some reasons for businesses to have confidence to keep going, that we will support them and that we won't lock them down any longer," said Ching.

The Ottawa Board of Trade is encouraging businesses to integrate rapid testing into plans now in case COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the fall.

"What we want everyone to be thinking about is when the fall comes, if the numbers start to go up it's already too late. So making sure that we continue to follow the protocols, use the measures that are available to us, everyone get double vaccinated so that when the fall comes that we're in a better position," said Ching.

"Let's get ahead of the game when everyone returns to school and hopefully that we're fully reopened."