Covid vaccine passports will not be extended to Scottish pubs and restaurants

Nicola Sturgeon has backed down on her threat to extend vaccine passports to pubs, restaurants and theatres before Christmas after her government admitted that the scheme had little impact on encouraging people to get jabbed.

The First Minister said her Cabinet had concluded that “extension would not be proportionate” given Covid cases were falling slightly and the damage the scheme would cause “on the operation of business”.

However, she warned it was a “very finely balanced decision” to shelve the proposal and this could be reversed “if our situation does deteriorate”, arguing the alternative was harsher restrictions on hospitality.

In a double boost, Ms Sturgeon bowed to opposition demands by announcing that from December 6, people would be allowed to present evidence of a recent negative test instead of vaccine passports to access nightclubs and large events, the premises already covered by the scheme.

The First Minister also urged Scots socialising, shopping or visiting loved ones over the festive period to take a lateral flow test on every occasion in an attempt to cut transmission and alleviate pressure on the crisis-hit NHS.

The First Minister noted that daily case numbers in Scotland had fallen by three per cent to less than 3,000 over the past week

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“Incredibly relieved” business leaders and opposition parties welcomed Ms Sturgeon’s climbdown on extending passports. However, the Scottish Tories lambasted her for creating huge economic uncertainty since the proposal was mooted earlier this month.

Her surprise announcement came after a 70-page Scottish Government evidence paper published last Friday said that the scheme had, at best, only led to an extremely small rise in young Scots getting their shots, despite that being Ms Sturgeon’s main justification for the policy.

Confirming that her Cabinet had decided extending vaccine passports would not be proportionate, she told MSPs: “We were also mindful of the need over the coming weeks of getting across the message that it is important to be vaccinated and tested ahead of socialising in any setting – including in homes and shopping centres, for example – not just in those that might be covered by a certification scheme.”

But she added: “If our situation does deteriorate, it may well be that extending Covid certification is a more proportionate alternative to the reintroduction of more onerous restrictions on, for example, hospitality.

“We will continue to liaise closely with businesses about this and about what they must do in the coming weeks to minimise that risk.”

Is the UK on track to hit vaccination targets?

The First Minister noted that daily case numbers in Scotland had fallen by three per cent to less than 3,000 over the past week, including a 19 per cent drop among the over-60s. However, she insisted the situation was still “precarious”.

Over-40s in England had been able to book their booster vaccinations from November 15. Ms Sturgeon said “information on booking appointments will be available very soon” for Scots in that age group.

Dr Liz Cameron, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Businesses and consumers will now be reassured that they can make plans over the coming weeks in the run-up to Christmas and New Year, without the fear of additional economic deterrents or vaccine certification burdens being placed on them.”

A spokesman for the Night Time Industries Association said allowing people to present a negative test instead of a passport “brings Scotland in line with other European nations, and partially alleviates at least some of the equalities and social exclusion harms that were previously the case”.

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, welcomed Ms Sturgeon’s “U-turn” on testing, but said it had occurred only after “the First Minister ignored everyone and ploughed on with a passport scheme which doesn’t drive up vaccination rates”.

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