'Christmas nightmare': Scottish Government to decide on vaccine passport extension

23 November 2021, 06:49

The Government is set to decide on an extension to the scheme.
The Government is set to decide on an extension to the scheme. Picture: Alamy

By Jack Foster

Scottish Government ministers are to decide today whether or not to extend the country’s vaccine passport scheme.

It’s anticipated Nicola Sturgeon will use a Covid-19 update to Holyrood this afternoon to announce a widening of the rules, meaning more businesses could be required to implement them.

People visiting nightclubs and other large events have had to show proof they’re double vaccinated since the start of October, but the First Minister suggested last week that it could be expanded.

She said: “All of our decisions are, and must be motivated by a desire to keep people safe, but also to get through what will be a challenging winter, without having to reintroduce any restrictions on trade”.

If the changes are approved, it would see places like theatres, cinemas and other hospitality venues included in the rules from December.

But, as Scotland prepares for its second festive season since the Covid-19 pandemic began, tighter restrictions could well pose political challenges for Nicola Sturgeon’s Government - not least because many businesses most directly impacted by the policy were those hit hardest by previous lockdown restrictions.

Read more: Covid passports could be extended in Scotland, says Deputy First Minister

Read more: Lord Lloyd Webber: Vaccine passports are a small price to pay to avoid more lockdowns

Just last week, an evidence paper claimed that whilst an extension to the vaccine passport system could well see an increase in vaccination rates among older age groups, businesses could face considerable costs to implement it.

The report points to a need to employ more staff and purchase new hardware to scan passports, as well as lost revenue where customers may simply choose to go to venues where the rules don’t apply. But the authors also concluded that costs incurred would be better than the alternative - that being another coronavirus lockdown.

Industry bosses, like Michael Bergson from Buck’s Bar in Glasgow, have branded the plans a “Christmas nightmare”.

Read more: Sajid Javid doesn't rule out vaccine passports for the pub

He said businesses like his fear losing out on much needed trade: “It just felt like we were getting somewhere, where we were going to have a good Christmas, shops are getting busier, bars and restaurants are getting busier, we really need it, so for them to just come in with this hammer blow right at the start of December would be unbearable for a lot of licensed premises.”

Nicola Sturgeon also suggested that ministers may consider bringing in some sort of lateral flow testing as an alternative.

It followed criticism by political opponents, who pointed out that the COP26 Climate summit in Glasgow boasted low Covid infection numbers, but had not been bound by the Government’s vaccine passport plan. Instead, the tens of thousands of delegates were required to provide a negative test result on arrival each day.

Scotland’s Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney said: “With cases rising gradually and pressures on our NHS, our approach is to keep people safe and get through a challenging winter without having to re-introduce any restrictions.

“We want businesses to remain open throughout the Christmas period so it is sensible to consider options available to expand Covid certification.”