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Scotland’s hospitality sector said it was facing a “stay of execution” after Nicola Sturgeon announced no decision will be made on extending Covid vaccine passports until next week.
The First Minister had been expected to tell MSPs whether the current coronavirus certification scheme – which applies to nightclubs and some large events – was to be extended.
But instead she said ministers had not taken a final decision, saying this would happen next Tuesday.
Ms Sturgeon revealed the Scottish Government is considering extending the requirement for people to prove they have been double-jabbed to indoor cinemas, theatres, and “some other licensed and hospitality premises”.
An evidence paper is being produced, with ministers pledging to consult businesses.
Ms Sturgeon meanwhile promised decisions will be made “on the basis of the data and the evidence”, adding that any changes that do come in will apply from December 6.
However the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said it had been left “in limbo for another week”.
SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “Businesses need time to plan for something major like this and vague comments like those from Nicola Sturgeon today, that new Covid passport rules, if agreed, would take effect from December 6 and apply to indoor cinemas, theatres, and some licensed and hospitality venues, do nothing to help the sector and instead leave us in limbo for another week as we approach the vital Christmas and New Year trading period.”
He insisted: “Such comments not only have a huge negative effect on business and staff morale, but also dent customer confidence.
“Today’s announcement is clearly a stay of execution as we wait for next week’s update.”
Mr Wilkinson stressed that “extending the Covid passport scheme will make it extremely difficult for businesses to survive at a time when they are only just starting to build back from previous lockdown closures”.
Meanwhile Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “There continues to be a sense of anxiety over extending the vaccine passport scheme, as it would hit consumer confidence and increase costs for business.”
She added the decision not to extend the scheme was “good news for now” saying the SCC would work with its members to “inform the consultation exercise outlined by the First Minister today”.
As well as deciding if the scheme needs to be expanded, ministers will also consider if changes can be made to allow people to show a recent negative lateral flow test, instead of having to provide their vaccination details.
The First Minister told MSPs: “I am acutely aware that many businesses want us to remove mitigations – including certification – not extend or tighten them.
“I understand that. But all of our decisions are motivated by a desire to get through what will be a challenging winter without having to re-introduce any restrictions on trade.
“We want, if possible, businesses to stay fully open over Christmas and through the winter, while also keeping Covid under control.
“If an expansion of Covid certification can help us do that, it would be irresponsible not to consider it.”
The First Minister, giving a regular Covid update to MSPs, stressed that ministers “have not at this stage taken a decision to extend the reach of the scheme”.
But with 17 new coronavirus deaths and 2,771 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours, she said the numbers “illustrate the need for continued precautions”.
3,537,204 people in Scotland have been tested for #coronavirus
The total confirmed as positive has risen by 2,771 to 688,582
Sadly 17 more people who tested positive have died (9,406 in total)
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) November 16, 2021
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said by delaying a decision the Scottish Government was “creating wholly avoidable uncertainty” for businesses.
The Conservative said: “Businesses are once again being left in the dark and treated as an after thought.
“They might have less than two weeks to adapt to the changes to the vaccine passport scheme at one of the busiest times of the year for the hospitality industry.”
He insisted this showed a “total lack of respect for Scottish businesses, who the SNP expect to shoulder the cost of their vaccine passport scheme”.
Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, urged the First Minister to commit to including a negative test in any reformed or expanded vaccine passport scheme.
“At every point in the process of development of vaccine passports, we have argued the importance of a negative test,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, argued the recent Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow, where Covid rates were found to be lower than in the general population, showed the importance of regular lateral flow testing.
He insisted this was a “better alternative” to Covid passports, as he urged the First Minister to “abandon vaccine certification entirely and build a scheme built entirely around lateral flow testing”.
Ms Sturgeon, however, refused to do this, saying: “My duty to keep the population of Scotland as safe as possible means I can’t just take the easy options Alex Cole-Hamilton might put forward.”
She also pointed out that those who took part in Cop26 were asked to get vaccinated before attending the event, with daily lateral flow testing for delegates an “additional precaution over and above that”.