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A decision on whether Scotland’s coronavirus vaccine passport scheme is be extended will not be made until next week – with Nicola Sturgeon accused of “creating wholly avoidable uncertainty” for businesses by pushing back the decision.
The First Minister came under fire after she said the Scottish Government was considering extending the requirement for people to prove they have been double-jabbed to indoor cinemas, theatres, and “some other licensed and hospitality premises”.
A decision on that will be announced next Tuesday, with changes to come in from Monday December 6, Ms Sturgeon said.
Ministers will also consider if the scheme can be changed to allow people to show a recent negative lateral flow test instead of having to provide their vaccination details.
Businesses are once again being left in the dark and treated as an after thought
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross
An evidence paper will be published, with Ms Sturgeon pledging the Government would make all decisions on extending Covid certification “on the basis of the data and the evidence”.
She told MSPs at Holyrood: “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.”
Her comments came after business leaders north of the border highlighted firms’ opposition to the imposition of further coronavirus restrictions.
Almost two thirds (65%) of companies surveyed for Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) were against increased use of vaccine passports, while hospitality bodies fear this could have a “devastating impact”.
With a final decision still to be made a week after the public was warned further restrictions could be coming, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The Government has delayed again, creating wholly avoidable uncertainty.
“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.”
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)
Latest update ➡️https://t.co/bZPbrCoQux
Health advice ➡️ https://t.co/l7rqArB6Qu pic.twitter.com/1cHkkPxkPI
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) November 16, 2021
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”.
Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the statement “won’t have reassured many smaller businesses, even if no formal decision has yet been made by the Scottish Government”,
He called on ministers to “avoid a situation where they place tough restrictions on the local and independent businesses hit hardest by this pandemic”, saying it was “likely that an expansion of the current vaccine passport scheme would have a disproportionate impact on the local firms with the fewest staff”.
Mr McRae also raised concerns about the “condensed timescales for any possible extension to the Covid certification initiative”.
He stated: “It is unfortunate that the design and implementation of any new measures will now need to take place at breakneck speed.”
Scotland introduced coronavirus certification at the start of October, resulting in those attending nightclubs and some other large events being required to show proof they have had two doses of vaccine.
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
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”.
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”.