The Scottish Government has stepped back from plans to extend the digital vaccine passport scheme to venues such as pubs, restaurants and theatres.
In a statement at Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said such a move “would not be proportionate” given the costs to business.She also announced a negative lateral flow test would be accepted from Monday 6 December for venues already covered by the Covid certification scheme.
She said: “When we first launched the scheme, one of its primary objectives was to help drive up vaccination rates. This is still important, obviously, but actual and projected uptake rates mean we judge it possible now to include testing. Doing so will also ensure that the scheme remains proportionate and help our wider efforts to stem transmission through greater use of LFD tests more generally.”
This means nightclubs and other entertainment venues, as well as large events, will be able to allow access to people with either proof of double vaccination or unvaccinated people who have recently returned a negative lateral flow test.
Following measures brought in last month, citizens visiting the likes of clubs, concerts and sporting events have been required to demonstate that they are fully vaccinated; the primary means for doing so is digital documentation issued via the NHS Scotland Covid Status app.
The first minister said this week that the government would be “intensifying” its public awareness campaign over the coming weeks in a bid to keep Covid rates down over the festive period.
It will encourage people to take an at-home Covid test before socialising, including visiting someone at their home or going out shopping.
The Scottish Conservatives accused the government of leaving businesses in the lurch while it came to a decision on Covid passports.
Health spokesperson Sandesh Gulhane said: “The uncertainty that this government has left hanging over businesses for the past two weeks has been unnecessary and unacceptable. The Scottish Government released their so-called evidence paper on Friday, yet in almost 70 pages they were unable to offer clear proof of the scheme effectiveness. It seems more and more likely that they are making it up as they go along.”
Scottish Labour welcomed the decision to begin accepting negative tests as well as Covid passports, a move the party has previously called for.
But Anas Sarwar added: “Frankly, we are in this position because the government couldn’t accept it was wrong and move in the right place, despite warnings from the World Health Organization.”
The Scottish Labour leader also called for “urgent support” to ensure schools have adequate levels of ventilation, highlighting rising Covid cases among children under 11.
Business groups have welcomed the decision not to extend vaccine passport requirements.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce had previously written to the First Minister warning expansion could result in business closures if firms were unable to trade as normal during their busiest time of year.
Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small Businesses said: "It’s a relief that ministers have taken on board the evidence from the FSB and others. Extending the vaccine passport scheme would have meant many local and independent Scottish hospitality and leisure firms making big changes to how they operate during a key trading period. These businesses will now have a weight off their shoulders."