Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon announces two-week grace period for businesses hit by vaccine passports
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of rolling out a “botched” vaccine passport scheme as businesses were told they will be given a two-week “grace period” before enforcement of the programme begins.
Speaking in Holyrood on Tuesday while giving her weekly update to MSPs on the Covid-19 pandemic, the First Minister confirmed the Cabinet had agreed to suspend enforcement of the certification scheme until October 18.
This is despite the legal requirement for larger venues and events and venues falling under the definition of ‘nightclub’ being legally required to check the vaccine status of customers and attendees from 5am on Friday.
It will mean the nightclub industry will be given three weekends to implement and test their Covid-19 vaccination certification schemes before being subject to enforcement checks.
The scheme will cover live indoor unseated events of more than 500 people, to live outdoor unseated events of more than 4,000 people, and events of more than 10,000 people, including football matches.
However, the vaccine passport scheme will see all other limits on the number of attendees to events or at large events lifted, the First Minister confirmed.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The government remains of the view that a targeted certification scheme does have a part to play in driving vaccination rates up as high as possible, and providing an additional layer of protection over the winter months as we seek to achieve the potentially difficult task of keeping Covid under control while keeping our economy fully open.
“However, as I have said previously we are also determined to listen and, as far as possible, respond to the reasonable concerns of business, so that the introduction and practical implementation of the scheme is as smooth as possible."
Ms Sturgeon said the 17-day grace period would allow businesses to “test” the arrangements in place to comply with the vaccine certification scheme.
She said: “This period – effectively a grace period – will allow businesses to test, adapt and build confidence in the practical arrangements they will need to put in place to be compliant with the scheme.
“However, the pragmatic compromise that I have just outlined in relation to a staged introduction of the scheme demonstrates, I hope, that we are listening to business about the practical challenges they face – and that we are determined to work with them to overcome these.”
The decision to include this ‘grace period’ was criticised by opposition politicians, who repeated their calls for the scheme in its existing form to be dropped.
Douglas Ross, whose party has forced a vote calling to scrap the vaccine passport scheme in Holyrood on Wednesday, said the initiative’s implementation had been “botched”.
The Scottish Conservative leader said it was clear the scheme was “still not ready” and called for it to be ditched.
He said: "Warning after warning from businesses for weeks were ignored by this government and only now does Nicola Sturgeon finally admit that this was a botched scheme.
"In a little over 48 hours’ time it will come into force yet the government is still publishing vital new information and guidance about how to administer the scheme and the goalposts have shifted.
"The First Minister has now delayed enforcement by over two weeks. It is more of the same last-minute, rushed, chaotic planning we’ve seen time and time again from this SNP Government.
"Isn’t a scheme that is legally in force, but won’t be legally enforced just adding to the confusion and isn’t it about time that the government cut its losses on this shambles of a scheme and scrapped it all together?”
Anas Sarwar, speaking virtually from the UK Labour party’s annual conference in Brighton, revealed to MSPs his own vaccine passport was not complete.
Raising concerns this could be the experience of many members of the public after records of his first dose of the vaccine was missing from his passport, Mr Sarwar called on the Scottish Government to place more emphasis on testing should the scheme go ahead.
The party leader said: “We know that Test and Protect isn’t working. We have raised the concerns of staff and we have stated weeks after weeks the facts on the performance.
"The government needs to focus on fixing the systems it already has, but instead it is fixated on creating a new system.
"There remains practical, legal and ethical concerns around a vaccine passport.
"If she [Ms Sturgeon] is determined to go ahead, and I plead with her again to please consider the role of testing, as making sure someone is negative going into a venue is still more important than if they are vaccinated.”
Members of the hospitality sector reiterated their opposition to the vaccine passport scheme as they reacted to confirmation of the grace period.
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licenced Trade Association, said: “This is of course welcome news, but it would have been better if we didn’t have Covid passports at all.
"We remain opposed to the scheme. It is a most unwelcome development for the licensed trade and as we have previously stated, it has happened without any meaningful consultation with the industry.
“However, they are being introduced, so we implore the Scottish Government to ensure that the technology utilised is robust, reliable and easy to use for customers and the people tasked with policing the scheme.”
UKHospitality Scotland’s executive director Leon Thompson said: “Today’s news that the Scottish Government will delay enforcement is welcome, acknowledging the concerns of business, raised by UKHospitality Scotland and others, gives late night businesses time to test and adapt their processes.
“However, the reality is that the Scottish Government is not ready to introduce this scheme. With no published regulations or guidance, businesses are working in the dark with little chance of being ready for Friday.
"Similarly, there has been no public campaign to advise people on what they need to do, with the app for downloading certification only available from this Thursday.
“The delay in enforcement doesn’t remove the difficulties that many businesses will face later when staffing shortages will remain.
"Many businesses are already planning to remove themselves from scope. For example, pubs [are] planning to close function rooms at midnight to avoid the need to check passports.
"This reduces their ability to trade at full capacity now when they need to generate maximum revenue and undermines financial prospects as we head closer to Christmas.”
During her announcement, Ms Sturgeon also announced Public Health Scotland was working on “additional surveillance safeguards” to track any potential new variants of Covid-19.
This comes after the Scottish Government decided the practical consequences of non-alignment with the rest of the UK on travel restrictions was not worth the benefits of continued testing on incoming travellers, as had previously been planned.
She also said £25 million will be available to small and medium-sized businesses to help improve ventilation.
This could see businesses install carbon dioxide monitors or make alterations to windows and vents, with payments to businesses starting in November and targeting the hospitality and leisure sector.
The First Minister also announced a further 2,370 positive cases of Covid-19, equal to 10.6 per cent of all tests carried out.
In total, 1,027 people are in hospital with Covid, up by four, with 73 people in intensive care, three fewer than on Monday.
A further 16 deaths linked to Covid were announced, with the total number now sitting at 8,551 people.