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Nicola Sturgeon has faced renewed calls to scrap Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme, as she announced a grace period of more than two weeks before the controversial measure is implemented.
The First Minister insisted this was not a delay, but instead was a “very pragmatic compromise”.
However, opposition leaders branded the scheme a “shambles” and said pushing back the enforcement date for it was typical of the “last minute, rushed, chaotic planning that we have seen time and time again from this SNP Government”.
Both the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross and his Liberal Democrat counterpart, Alex Cole-Hamilton, urged the First Minister to abandon the initiative – with the latter branding it an “assault on the right to medical privacy”.
The implementation of the scheme is not being delayed, the scheme is being implemented from 5am on Friday. But we will have a grace period before any business will face enforcement action for non-compliance with the scheme
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
But Ms Sturgeon insisted vaccine certification could help Scotland deal with a challenging winter while keeping businesses open.
The First Minister said: “I want to do everything that is reasonably possible to keep people and the country as safe as possible from the risk of Covid over these winter months.
“This winter will pose challenges, not just to Scotland but to countries across the world, that are greater than any in our lifetimes, potentially.
“So we must do everything we can to get through those challenges as safely as possible and, if Covid certification can play even a small part in that, I think it is better than facing the risk of having to close down certain businesses again over the winter period.”
As it stands, the Scottish Government scheme is due to come in from 5am on Friday, October 1.
From this point, those going to night clubs as well as large scale events will have to show that they have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine.
However, in an update to Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon announced businesses will not face the threat of enforcement action for non-compliance until October 18.
She told MSPs she had made the change after listening to the “reasonable concerns of business”.
“This period – effectively a grace period – will allow businesses to test, adapt and build confidence in the practical arrangements they will need to put in place to be compliant with the scheme.”
She insisted: “The implementation of the scheme is not being delayed, the scheme is being implemented from 5am on Friday.
“But we will have a grace period before any business will face enforcement action for non-compliance with the scheme.”
But the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) is already preparing to mount a legal challenge to the scheme.
And Leon Thompson, UK Hospitality’s executive director for Scotland, insisted that “the reality is that the Scottish Government is not ready to introduce this scheme”.
He welcomed the delay in enforcement, as he said: “With no published regulations or guidance, businesses are working in the dark with little chance of being ready for Friday.
“Similarly, there has been no public campaign to advise people on what they need to do, with the app for downloading certification only available from this Thursday.”
His comments came as the Scottish Tory leader argued the delay in enforcement action showed that the First Minister was “only now” conceding that “that this is a botched scheme”.
Mr Ross added: “Isn’t a scheme that is legally in force, but won’t be enforced, just adding to the confusion?
“Isn’t it about time this Government cut its losses on this shambles of a scheme and scrapped it altogether?”
The Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, told MSPs of difficulties he had had in obtaining his vaccine certificate ahead of attending his party’s Brighton conference.
Mr Sarwar said the record he had received was “incomplete as it failed to include the details of my first jag”.
With an app for the scheme due to launch on Thursday, he called on Ms Sturgeon to give a “cast iron guarantee” that this would work.
Meanwhile, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The 18-day delay in enforcement is an admission that the Government and businesses are nowhere near ready, and we have evidence that shows that the passports don’t even work.”
The opposition pressed the First Minister on the issue as the latest daily figures showed a total of 1,027 people were in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19, up by four on the previous day, with 73 patients in intensive care, a drop of three.
Ms Sturgeon welcomed the falling numbers of coronavirus infections, with the average number of new Covid-19 cases having halved in the past three weeks to stand at an average of 3,119 new cases a day.
The First Minister told MSPs there had been “significant declines” in all age groups but the steepest falls were among people aged 15 to 24.
However, she said there “remains a risk that cases could rise again” going into the winter period.