Decision due on expansion of Scottish vaccine passport scheme

Decision due on expansion of Scottish vaccine passport scheme

Image source, PA Media

Nicola Sturgeon is to announce whether Scotland’s vaccine passport system will be expanded to cover more venues.

The government has said that widening existing restrictions could be the only alternative to a new lockdown if Covid-19 cases rise during the winter period.

But some business groups and opposition parties have argued against the move.

The first minister will agree a decision with her cabinet on Tuesday morning, before announcing it to MSPs at Holyrood in the afternoon.

If agreed, the vaccine certification scheme would be extended to cinemas, theatres and other as yet unspecified hospitality venues from 6 December.

Ms Sturgeon previously told MSPs that exactly which businesses could be affected would be decided “on the basis of the data and the evidence”.

Since October, people in Scotland have been required to show proof of vaccination to enter nightclubs and large events like gigs and football matches.

The government is considering extending this to other settings – as well as strengthening rules around the wearing of face coverings and home working – amid concerns about pressure on the health services over winter.

Ministers published an evidence paper which said Scotland faced a choice between containing the spread of the virus by “closing venues, limiting group sizes and advising people not to meet”, or by expanding the vaccine passport scheme.

It said further use of certification would “enable people to meet up in a lower risk way” because it would become less likely that an infectious person would be present in a crowded setting.

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Image caption,

The first minister will announce her decision to MSPs at Holyrood

Hospitality bosses have warned that pubs and restaurants could face an “avalanche of cancellations” if the certification scheme is extended over the normally busy Christmas period.

Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron said firms might back an expansion if there was “clear” evidence in favour of one, but said: “We remain unconvinced at this time that the public health benefits outweigh the negatives for individuals, businesses and the economy.”

The government paper conceded that a “significant number of businesses and organisations” could be affected and face increased costs – noting that nightclubs had reported “substantial turnover losses” since the current rules came into force.

However, it said this would still be preferable to venues having to close entirely due to the return of lockdown restrictions.

And it said requiring certification might convince people who are currently “indifferent” about vaccination to get jabbed.

‘Finely balanced judgement’

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said there was no evidence that certification “actually works”.

He told BBC Scotland that it was “absolutely wrong to be putting this added pressure and burden on to businesses at such short notice”.

Meanwhile Scottish Labour has urged the government to let people provide a negative test result instead of a vaccine certificate – as is the case in most other countries which have a certification scheme.

And the Liberal Democrats have called for the use of lateral flow tests to replace vaccine passports entirely, citing the example of the COP26 conference in Glasgow as a success of using testing only.

Ministers are considering including testing in the system, with Ms Sturgeon telling MSPs last week that this was a “finely-balanced judgement”.

She added: “We want, if possible, businesses to stay fully open over Christmas and through the winter, while keeping Covid under control.

“If an expansion of vaccination certification can help us to do that, it would be irresponsible not to consider it.”

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