Covid vaccine passports: Fair treatment is essential for Scotland's venues and events – Brian Ferguson

Clarity and consistency would seem to be two of the most essential requirements for businesses grappling with the impact of the pandemic over the last year.

By Brian Ferguson
Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 4:55 am

Unfortunately, for so many of those involved in Scotland’s live events and entertainments sectors, they seem to have been in short supply.

For more than a year, they were saddled with much tighter restrictions than those imposed on pubs, shops, restaurants and cafes.

Even when restrictions were eased and then lifted in recent weeks, there was widespread confusion where, when and under what circumstances face coverings should be worn.

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While the current law states that face coverings must be worn in “the majority of indoor settings”, including cinemas, clubs, museums, galleries, theatres, and comedy clubs, there are exemptions for hospitality settings, regardless of whether you are seated or standing, and if you are dancing, including at a nightclub or concert.

My experience of how these rules were interpreted by venues and audiences varied greatly throughout the Edinburgh festivals last month, when most shows were staged with distancing measures still in place. The availability of a licensed bar seemed to be the deciding factor.

Only a month after most restrictions were eased, event organisers and venue operators, including from the nightclub sector, are also having to grapple with the prospect of a mandatory vaccine certification scheme.

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Proof of vaccination will be needed to go to nightclubs in Scotland with weeks under plans announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Pixabay

This first emerged in April when then Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman confirmed work was underway to examine “ethical, equality and practical questions about how it might be used and in what circumstances”.

Ms Freeman’s successor, Humza Yousaf, played down the possibility of such a scheme being introduced less than two months ago, when the UK government was pressing ahead with its own version for English venues and events in September. It is no wonder Mr Yousaf sounded less than convincing trying to defend the Scottish government’s forthcoming vaccine passports on the radio at the weekend.

With more than 7,000 new Covid cases being reported every day, it is certainly no surprise that the Scottish government is looking at new ways of easing pressure on the NHS, especially with autumn and winter looming, and most venues now back up and running again in some form.

It is hard to argue with the three main reasons for introducing vaccine certificates – helping to protect the NHS, helping to persuade people to get vaccinated, and trying to avoid reimposing previous restrictions on venues and events. Take-up levels so far would seem to suggest it has widespread popular support in Scotland.

File photo dated 19/02/21 of a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine prepared for injection. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire

But if the Scottish government is convinced vaccine passports are required for nightclubs, large-scale standing concert and major sports events, why not introduce the scheme across the board?

The nightclub industry in particularly would seem to have some justification in believing they have been singled out for treatment, when the operators of bars and restaurant do not face similar demands, although they would be naive to assume they are completely off the hook.

It also seems strange to set a crowd threshold of 500 for indoor venues – if the audience is standing – for vaccine passports to kick in, while smaller music venues, comedy clubs and theatres will be exempt.

If the government is determined to press ahead it should take the time to ensure fair treatment for all.

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