Scottish vaccine passport extension could start next monthon November 16, 2021 at 3:58 pm

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Nicola Sturgeon says the scheme could be rolled out to cinemas, theatres and more hospitality venues from 6 December.

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Image source, PA Media

Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme could be rolled out to cinemas, theatres and more hospitality venues from 6 December, the first minister has confirmed.

Nicola Sturgeon said a final decision would not be taken until next Tuesday.

But she told Holyrood that the rules may need to be tightened to get through winter without a new lockdown.

The passport scheme currently only applies to nightclubs and major events such as concerts and football matches.

A decision had been widely expected to be made this week, with opposition leaders accusing the government of creating “wholly avoidable uncertainty” for businesses that could be affected.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs there had been a “gradual increase” in new cases of Covid-19 over the last two weeks, from just over 2,500 new cases per day to around 3,000 per day.

And she said the number of patients in hospital with the virus was “extremely high” – despite having fallen over recent weeks – with pressure on the health service expected to increase in winter.

The first minister said the vaccine passport scheme was making “an important and proportionate contribution to stemming transmission”.

But she said a final decision on whether it would be extended would not be taken until 23 November, once ministers have taken account of the “most up to date data”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “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.”

Cases 16 November

Ms Sturgeon said the government was also considering whether a negative test result could be provided instead of proof of vaccination, as happens in most other countries that have introduced vaccine passports.

She also said choosing not to be vaccinated without good reason was “deeply irresponsible,” and urged people to do their “civic duty” by getting jabbed.

The government has updated its “strategic framework” paper with plans for the winter period ahead, with warnings that the country “risks moving potentially rapidly” into a challenging situation should a new variant of the virus emerge.

The paper said ministers “hope” not to need to return to the levels system of localised restrictions or a blanket lockdown, even temporarily, but that a “nationwide, collective effort” was needed to keep the virus sufficiently under control.

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Analysis box by Kirsten Campbell, political correspondent, Scotland

Ministers are watching the situation in Europe very carefully. Many countries there are having to reimpose restrictions because of soaring case numbers.

Public health experts don’t yet know if this is a new wave that could be coming Scotland’s way, or if this is what we already faced back in September.

The Scottish government is said to be at a fork in the road, but it can’t choose which path to take until it knows the direction of travel of the virus.

There is a degree of confidence that three key hurdles have been overcome: pupils are back in school, students have returned to universities and colleges and COP26 has passed without a massive spike in cases.

But with Christmas fast approaching, the decision on whether or not to extend vaccine certification will have to be made soon.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross accused the government of having “a total lack for respect for Scottish businesses”.

He said: “The government has delayed again, creating wholly avoidable uncertainty. Businesses are once again being left in the dark and treated as an afterthought.

“They might have less than two weeks to adapt to changes to the vaccine passport scheme at one of the busiest times of the year for the hospitality industry.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said ministers should commit to engaging with affected businesses and offering them financial support if new measures are introduced.

He also said Ms Sturgeon should accept that providing a negative test should have been an option in the system from the outset, saying: “Testing should always have been at the heart of our Covid reduction strategy.”

The first minister said allowing a negative test to be included was a “finely balanced” decision, saying it could be argued that the scheme had helped to drive vaccine uptake.

However she said Scotland may now be in a position to include this option due to high levels of uptake of the vaccine.

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