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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Nicola Sturgeon says pubs and cinemas will NOT have to join Scotland’s Covid passport scheme


Nicola Sturgeon gave Scots a last-minute reprieve from a harsher Covid passport scheme today as she stepped back from plans to extend it to pubs and cinemas.  

The First Minister confirmed to Holyrood that the Covid certification programme will stay as it is, having previously suggested it could be widened from December 6 to address increasing Covid rates.

It would have given thousands of small businesses less than a fortnight to prepare for a measure that could throttle their trade during one of the busiest times of year.

Many had warned that it would have created a ‘Christmas nightmare’ on the high street, and opposition parties had also condemned the idea.

But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs today that her cabinet had decided against a change despite the country’s ‘precarious’ fight against the virus.

‘This was a very, very finely-balanced decision, but I can confirm that at this stage we have decided not to extend the scope of the scheme,’ she said.  

‘We have taken account of the fact that – although our situation is precarious – cases are currently stable and indeed slightly declining; and we have considered the inevitable impact vaccine certification has on the operation of businesses; and concluded that, at this stage, extension would not be proportionate.

‘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.’

She added she was placing faith in the vaccines and urged people heading out socially or to the shops to take a lateral flow test beforehand and stay at home if it is positive.  

From December 6 punters will also be allowed to use LFT results instead of Covid passports to enter venues already covered by the scheme.

She also kept mask-wearing and working-from-home rules in place. 

The First Minister confirmed to Holyrood that the Covid certification programme will stay as it is, having previously suggested it could be widened from December 6 to address increasing Covid rates.

The First Minister is expected to announce an extension of controversial Covid vaccine passports which currently cover nightclubs and large venues to pubs, cinemas and theatres at a briefing at 2pm today

The First Minister is expected to announce an extension of controversial Covid vaccine passports which currently cover nightclubs and large venues to pubs, cinemas and theatres at a briefing at 2pm today

Where else in the UK had made Covid passes compulsory? 

WALES

MPs in Wales have voted to extend controversial Covid passports to cinemas, theatres and concert halls. 

From November 15, entry to cinemas, theatres and concert halls has been regulated by the scheme after members of the Welsh Parliament dramatically approved the extension to mixed reaction. 

People were previously required to show they are fully vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus to enter nightclubs and similar venues since last month. 

The new law brought by the Labour government passed with 39 Members of the Senedd voting for and 15 against, with the Welsh Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds opposed.  

Officials insisted that the Covid passport was popular, with Health Minister Eluned Morgan saying the extension was designed to keep cinemas and theatres open over the winter months. 

NORTHERN IRELAND 

Covid vaccine passports will be compulsory in Northern Ireland next month after Stormont ministers backed the measure.  

People in the UK province will have to provide a passport or proof of a negative Covid test result to access hospitality venues including nightclubs, pubs or restaurants from December 13. 

Speaking after the snap vote, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann said he was trying to avoid the need for restrictions this winter, including a full lockdown, and insisted ministers ‘have to act’.

‘Our Covid numbers are too high and we need to forcibly push them down,’ he told reporters. ‘Our health and social care system is under severe stress.’ 

ENGLAND

Westminster ministers have so far refrained from introducing compulsory Covid passports amid privacy and civil liberty concerns.

The Government dramatically ditched plans to adopt certification rules for nightclubs and other major venues following a huge Tory outcry.

But Downing Street confirmed venues will be told to implement the measure if the NHS comes under ‘unsustainable pressure’ this autumn or winter.     

Plan B – which ministers hope will be enough to stop the country from succumbing to another full-blown lockdown – also includes re-enforcing face masks indoors and work from home guidance.

Proposals published by the Department of Health have now revealed more details of the passport scheme, and warn it could be implemented ‘at short notice in response to concerning data’. 

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross had earlier called the scheme ‘absolutely wrong’ and insisted that the Government’s own 70-page evidence paper on the application of passports demonstrated that there is ‘no evidence to suggest vaccine passports do anything to stop the spread of Covid-19’.   

Scotland has recorded 17 coronavirus-linked deaths and 2,527 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to latest data.

It means the death toll under this daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is 9,495.

The daily test positivity rate was 11.6 per cent, up from 11.4 per cent the previous day, according to data published by the Scottish Government on Tuesday.

There were 743 people in hospital on Monday with recently confirmed Covid-19, down seven on the day before, with 60 in intensive care, up one.

So far 4,340,162 people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, 3,940,314 have received their second dose, and 1,469,423 have received a third dose or booster.

Ms Sturgeon suggested last week that the scheme could be expanded, warning: ‘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’. 

In Wales, Covid passes have been required for entry to cinemas, theatres and concert halls since November 13 after MPs voted to extend the measures. And in Northern Ireland from next month, vaccine passports will be compulsory to enter nightclubs, pubs and restaurants. 

Though the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has so far refrained from introducing Covid passports in England, Downing Street has warned that the measure could be imposed in the event of a winter crisis.

Scotland’s hospitality sector had responded to the plans with fury. A spokesman for Scotland’s Beer and Pub Association told MailOnline: ‘The possibility of extending vaccine certification to the wider hospitality sector is deeply troubling. 

‘There are huge operational and practical challenges in extending this policy and the damage to pub businesses would be severe in terms of reduced trade and additional costs. 

‘Without adjustments to the certification scheme, such as a negative Covid test and changes to entry checks, it is very difficult to see how it would be workable for pubs, especially as we head into the all-important festive trading period.’

In a letter to Ms Sturgeon, Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said Scottish businesses remain ‘unconvinced’ that the public health benefits of an extension to Scotland’s Covid scheme outweigh the negatives for individuals, businesses and the economy. 

She said the Scottish Government has also failed to demonstrate that ‘workplace transmission’ is happening in office settings, and said further encouragement of the work from home scheme will have a devastating impact on city centre economies.

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said encouraging working from home is ‘an important mitigation in controlling the virus’ and to minimise other economic and social restrictions.

Industry bosses, such as Michael Bergson from Buck’s Bar in Glasgow, have branded the plans a ‘Christmas nightmare’.

He said businesses like his fear losing out on much needed trade, adding: ‘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.’

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.  

The Scottish Government’s evidence paper states that extending the passport scheme to new settings could have a major impact on revenue and footfall for those businesses that could be added to the scheme.

‘Options that include proof of negative Covid test results (e.g. lateral flow tests) would offset economic harm to a degree because it would increase the number of potential customers able to access the venues (given that not all people eligible to have double vaccination have done so, for a variety of reasons),’ it says.

‘This would apply to business affected by potential expansion of the scheme, and those that already fall within existing requirements.’

However, Mr Ross told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show that the main concern was continued uncertainty for hard-hit businesses.

‘Where’s the evidence that these vaccine passports actually work? [The Scottish government’s] own 70-page document can’t tell us and I think this is absolutely wrong to be putting this added pressure and burden onto businesses at such short notice,’ he said.

‘We know from many studies already that businesses are strongly opposed to any extension, and we’ve had no idea apart from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister saying some other hospitality venues may be affected, which ones? 

Another 44,917 infections were recorded in the last 24 hours. Deaths have fallen to their lowest since start of month. And hospitalisations have fallen by 10 per cent week-on-week

Another 44,917 infections were recorded in the last 24 hours. Deaths have fallen to their lowest since start of month. And hospitalisations have fallen by 10 per cent week-on-week

Do a Covid test before Christmas shopping: Government issues new advice to take a lateral flow test before heading to crowded places in bid to prevent fourth wave this winter 

The Government has issued new advice to take a lateral flow test before heading to crowded placed to prevent a fourth wave this winter.

It is the first time Britons have been asked to take a test before going to highrisk settings – which could include busy shops and town centres.

Previously people in England were asked to take two tests a week or before meeting vulnerable individuals or after visiting a highrisk place, but not before.

The new guidance also covers indoor settings such as sporting events and music concerts, according to the i newspaper .

The Cabinet Office guidance also warned being in busy indoor places carries a higher risk of catching or passing on Covid-19.

‘I’ve asked two weeks running, ”which businesses should be preparing for the expansion of the vaccine passport scheme?” and the failed to tell those businesses, therefore they can’t prepare properly.’  

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said vaccine passports should be abolished and demanded a full parliamentary vote before any changes to coronavirus restrictions come into force.

He said the SNP and Greens have not provided any factual evidence to show the current Covid ID scheme is keeping Scotland safer, adding ‘no wonder it has been attacked by everyone from health experts to civil liberties groups.’

The Scottish Government said the scheme has ‘likely contributed to a small rise in vaccinations’ in younger Scots, and suggested that expanding the scheme could ‘increase the usefulness of certification’ in reducing transmission.

Its report said such a move would also encourage unjabbed older people to get vaccinated, as well as potentially leading ‘to a better understanding of the fact that the pandemic is still with us’.

However, civil liberties campaigners including Big Brother Watch have described the scheme as ‘coercive’ and called for it to be axed.

It comes as European governments imposed lockdowns on the unvaccinated and made vaccination compulsory amid a surge in virus cases. 

Professor Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, said he believed vaccine passports ‘will contribute positively’. 

He added: ‘Civil liberties are not an absolute, we allow all sorts of restrictions on our behaviour if they have the ability to harm others.

‘We have restrictions on speed and things like seatbelts so it is not an either or, we need to do a balance between what the restrictions are doing to individuals and what the application of the measures do in terms of preventing harm to others and we know that vaccines work.’ 

Ahead of today’s announcement, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘The situation around the pandemic is serious so we are being open about all of the options available to us that may be required to protect the public.’ 

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.’



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