Covid: Sturgeon criticised for ‘avoidable uncertainty’ over delayed decision on vaccine passport scheme

The Scottish Government has delayed a decision on if more types of venues will be subject to Covid vaccine passport rules

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Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of creating “avoidable uncertainty” for Scottish businesses after the decision on whether the Covid vaccine passports scheme will be extended was delayed.

The First Minister was criticised for suggesting the vaccine passport scheme could be rolled out to more types of venues, including cinemas, theatres and “some other licensed and hospitality premises”, while also stating that the decision has been delayed.

Venues such as nightclubs are already subjected to vaccine passport rules, which requires visitors to be double jabbed and show a QR code confirming their vaccination status at the door.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • The Scottish Government is considering extending the Covid vaccine passport scheme to include more venues
  • Nicola Sturgeon confirmed this includes cinemas, theatres and other hospitality venues
  • However, the First Minister also confirmed a decision on the extension of the scheme has been delayed with a decision now expected to be announced on 23 November
  • If approved, the rules will incorporate additional venues from 6 December
  • However, Sturgeon has been criticised for causing uncertainty for businesses in question 

What did Nicola Sturgeon say?

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon said: “I am acutely aware that many businesses want us to remove mitigations – including certification – not extend or tighten them.

“I understand that. But all of our decisions are motivated by a desire to get through what will be a challenging winter without having to re-introduce any restrictions on trade.

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

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

Despite the First Minister’s feeling that the scheme will be needed to curb any rise in cases, political opponents hit out at her “total lack of respect for Scottish businesses, who the SNP expect to shoulder the cost of their vaccine passport scheme”.

What have the opposition said?

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The Government has delayed again, creating wholly avoidable uncertainty.

“Businesses are once again being left in the dark and treated as an afterthought.

“They might have less than two weeks to adapt to the changes to the vaccine passport scheme at one of the busiest times of the year for the hospitality industry.”

Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, said a negative test should be included in any proposed extension to the Covid-19 vaccine passport scheme.

He said: “At every point in the process of development of vaccine passports, we have argued the importance of a negative test.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, backed the call for more testing, using COP26 in Glasgow as an example event.

Case rate at the recent climate summit in Glasgow were found to be lower than the general population, with the belief that regular lateral flow testing contributed to this.

How have businesses reacted to the delayed decision?

In a survey for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, 65% of companies were against the extended rollout of vaccine passports in Scotland.

Andrew McRae, from the Federation of Small Business, criticised the plans, saying that Sturgeon’s statement “won’t have reassured many smaller businesses, even if no formal decision has yet been made by the Scottish Government.”

McRae called on Scottish ministers to “avoid a situation where they place tough restrictions on the local and independent businesses hit hardest by this pandemic.” and also said that the “breakneck speed” at which businesses would need to comply with new rules would harm venues.

Meanwhile, UKHospitality Scotland Executive Director Leon Thompson, said: “Today’s statement does nothing to remove business uncertainty at a time when many are facing financial difficulty. The delay in the decision on whether or not to extend vaccine certification, simply brings any introduction of an expanded scheme into December.

This creates further confusion for businesses and consumers alike, just ahead of Christmas. Our businesses need to be able to trade fully at this critical time. Hotels are already reporting cancellations due to the current situation, with nightclubs and other late-night venues citing a drop in trade of up to 40%.

“UKHospitality Scotland welcomes the opportunity to speak with ministers and officials this week to discuss their plans and thinking. We will be pushing for evidence for any decisions made and taking the Scottish Government through the challenges currently faced by businesses and how these will be increased if certification is extended across hospitality.”

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