Relief for hospitality as Sturgeon decides against extending vaccine passports

Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme is not being extended to cover more venues, despite the “precarious” situation the country faces with coronavirus, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said the Scottish Government had concluded it would not be “proportionate” to increase the remit of the scheme, which requires people to prove they have been double jabbed when visiting nightclubs and attending large events.

Ministers had been considering if those going to the theatre, cinemas and some other hospitality venues should be required to show their vaccination status.

But she told MSPs at Holyrood that after making a “very, very finely balanced decision” they had at this stage “decided not to extend the scope of the scheme”.

However, she confirmed the existing vaccine certificate scheme, introduced in Scotland at the start of October, was being amended from December 6 to allow people to show a recent negative lateral flow test as an alternative to giving their vaccination details.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Although our situation is precarious, cases are currently stable and indeed slightly declining, and we have considered the inevitable impact vaccine certification has on the operation of businesses, and concluded that, at this stage, extension would not be proportionate.”

The decision not to extend the scheme to other venues was welcomed by opposition politicians at Holyrood and businesses.

Paul Togneri of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association said: “Scotland’s pubs and bars have breathed a great sigh of relief with the First Minister’s statement today.

“We have been in close dialogue with ministers, officials and public health discussing the potential economic impact and the operational practicalities extending the scheme would have entailed.

“We are thankful to them for listening to us and in doing so, may have averted an economic disaster for many businesses this Christmas.”

Vaccine passports are already required for those visiting nightclubs and other large events, such as some football matches (Jane Barlow/PA)
Vaccine passports are already required for those visiting nightclubs and other large events, such as some football matches (Jane Barlow/PA)

Marc Crothall, CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said extending vaccine certification to hospitality would have impacted on the wider tourism sector.

He said: “The proposal to extend vaccine certification to hospitality was in our view harmful to the sector, the wider tourism economy across all areas of Scotland and would have effectively stalled what is already a long and challenging road to recovery for one of the worst hit industries.”

With the festive period key for firms trying to recoup money lost in earlier lockdowns, he said that “many businesses will feel a sense of overwhelming relief that they will be able to trade as planned”.

Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said: “Businesses still working hard to get back on their feet will welcome the Scottish Government’s decision not to expand Covid certification.

“Many firms would have faced practical challenges and increased costs to implement measures at a time when bumper trading is needed to claw back lost or diminished revenues.

“Today’s decision strikes the right balance between managing the virus and protecting our economic recovery.”

Scottish Tory health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said it was welcome that the vaccine passport scheme was not being extended – but he added the “uncertainty” that the Government had caused businesses while this was being considered was both “unnecessary and unacceptable”.

He insisted the evidence paper the Government had published last week had failed to provide “clear proof of the scheme’s effectiveness” as he claimed: “It seems more and more likely that they are making it up as they go along.”

The Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, said ministers had introduced vaccine passports because “they were determined to be seen doing something, rather than doing the right thing”.

He added: “I welcome the change to include a negative test but frankly we are in this position because the Government could not accept it was wrong.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said lateral flow tests had “always been superior to vaccine certification”.

He criticised the Government for the “weeks of uncertainty and panic” it had given businesses, as he called on the First Minister to abolish vaccine passports altogether and “build a scheme around lateral flow testing at large scale events”.

Ms Sturgeon, however, insisted the Government was “absolutely right” to have introduced Covid certification, adding that “equally it is right now we have vaccination rates at a certain level to move to a situation where it is open to testing as well as vaccination or as an alternative to vaccination”.

The First Minister said: “We were right to consider extending it further and we are right to keep that under review. In the face of this virus the most foolish thing any Government could do is rule things out.”