Key hospitality leaders described the move as a “threat” to jobs and the future of the sector just as it had reopened after the First Minister revealed her government hoped to have vaccine passports in place later this month, “once all adults have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated”.
They would be required for nightclubs and adult entertainment venues, unseated indoor live events of more than 500 people, and unseated outdoor live events with more than 4,000 people.
Any event, of any nature, which has more than 10,000 people in attendance, including football matches, would also require a certificate for entry under the plans.
The announcement sparked dismay in Scotland’s hospitality sector, which has faced more than a year of closure during the pandemic lockdowns, while the Scottish Liberal Democrats declared the idea was “illiberal” and akin to “domestic medical ID cards”.
Scotland’s hospitality industry was among the first to be closed to prevent the spread of Covid, while some businesses such as nightclubs, were the last to reopen completely.
The move also prompted the Scottish Football Association’s Joint Response Group to raise concerns about the “unintended consequences” of the scheme.
Ms Sturgeon said while the affected businesses and events mattered to “our economy, and to our cultural and social life”, they were not “essential services”.
She said: “The nature of them, which involves bringing many people together in relatively small areas does mean that, despite their very best efforts, they can contribute significantly to the spread of the virus.
“By ensuring that people entering these settings are fully vaccinated, we would be taking a proportionate step to help make these settings safer for everyone attending and, by extension, for all of us.”
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Ms Sturgeon also hinted that if cases did not fall, other venues, such as pubs and restaurants, may also need to operate using vaccine passports.
Reacting to the move, Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the proposals were a “threat hanging over the whole of the hospitality industry”.
He said: “Although the suggestion is that the wider hospitality industry will not be affected should the Scottish Government agree to introduction of ‘Covid passports’ next week, it is a most unwelcome development for the licensed trade in general.
“Where is the evidence that this is required for nightclubs – and what is a nightclub?
“We are seeing a large spike in infection rates following the general reopening of the economy when a number of sectors fully reopened and Scottish schools have been opened for two weeks, universities and colleges are about to open, but nightclubs alone have been targeted with the possible introduction of a Covid status certification system at this time.
“And what is a nightclub? With a wide variety of hybrid premises in the Scottish licensed trade market, how is this defined?
“Many pubs, bars and hotels are larger than nightclubs and offer various entertainments. Consultation with the industry before this announcement was made would have been helpful.
“If Covid status certification is to be introduced, any system must be easy to use for both businesses and members of the public. We await the finer details of how this scheme will work and will strive to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that their introduction, if that is what happens, is seamless and easy for all involved.”
Leon Thompson, executive director of UKHospitality Scotland, said the announcement would “cause dismay amongst businesses”. He also raised a lack of consultation with the industry.
“The fact that there has been no attempt to engage with the sector ahead of this announcement is extremely concerning,” he said.
“Nightclubs and event organisers will be on the frontline of implementing this policy and representatives need an opportunity to ask questions of the Scottish Government’s plans before they are put to the Scottish Parliament for approval.
“Whilst the introduction of certification is envisaged as limited for now, if extended, the impact on wider hospitality could be immense.
“This cannot be the thin end of the wedge, especially when no evidence has been produced to indicate that nightclubs, events or indeed any other hospitality settings are responsible for the rising number of Covid-19 cases.”
However, Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland policy chair, said while the measure would not be welcomed, “as opposed to the prospect of stricter restrictions, we believe the business community will accept this change”.
He stressed: “The passport system which the Scottish Government proposes to deliver needs to be user-friendly for citizens and businesses.
“It must help, not hinder the businesses that were among the last to open their doors when restrictions were eased. Further, there can be no rush to extend where these so-called passports are to be used until we see how the new system works.
“Lastly, assuming parliamentary approval, it’ll be vitally important for the public to accept these passport rules and for firms to have support from police and regulators as they enforce them.”
A statement from the SFA’s Joint Response Group said it would “endeavour to establish full details” of the scheme, and added there needed to be a “practical and workable solution for member clubs, their staff and supporters; in particular season ticket holders who bought their tickets in good faith and on the understanding they would be allowed back into the stadium when restrictions were lifted”.
Ms Sturgeon revealed the vaccine certification plan after reporting 6,170 new positive Covid cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday, with 629 people in hospital with the virus – 44 more than Tuesday – and 59 people in intensive care, up by five.
A further nine deaths have also been reported in the past 24 hours, which takes the total number of deaths registered, under the daily definition, to 8,127.
Ms Sturgeon also urged people to do their “civic duty” and continue getting vaccinated “to keep ourselves and others safe”.
She said: “In recent months there has been a lot of discussion about vaccine certification and, as I have indicated before, the government has been considering very carefully whether – notwithstanding the understandable equity and ethical concerns – vaccine certification could in some settings help protect public health, reduce the necessity for any further restrictions, and also boost vaccine take-up.
“The Scottish Government has made it clear that we do not believe that vaccination certification should ever be a requirement for any key services or in settings where people have no choice over attendance – for example, public transport, education, access to medical services or shops. We continue to hold to that position.
“But we do consider that a limited use of vaccine certification could help to control the spread of the virus, as we head into the autumn and winter.
“For any decision of this nature to have an impact before winter, we would have to take and implement it quickly. However, I recognise that it is a significant decision so, in my view, it should be expressly authorised by Parliament.”
She said Holyrood should have a full debate and vote on the issue next week when she would set out the proposals.
“We do not currently consider it appropriate to introduce certification for the hospitality industry as a whole, and hope that it will not be necessary to do so,” she said. “However, we will be keeping that under review.”
“We are also very aware of the need to take account of people who – for good reason – cannot get fully vaccinated with both doses of the vaccine. So, for example, we envisage that children and people with particular medical conditions would be exempt.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said his party would reject the idea.
“This government has moved effectively to a position where people will now be compelled to show evidence of their medical records in order to access certain freedoms,” he said. “This is an illiberal step and a dangerous precedent.
“Big systems for scheduling tests, contact tracing, travel and more haven’t been up to the task. They are creaking at the sides.
“Domestic medical ID cards present real risks to the management of our personal information and could be easily expanded to include other aspects of life.”
The Scottish Greens had previously raised concerns about vaccine passports. However, now part of the government, they will back the proposals next week.
New Green MSP Gillian Mackay did reiterate her fears about the impact of vaccine passports on disabled people and those with underlying health conditions “as well as people from the global south who may not be able to access proof of vaccination”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross accused Ms Sturgeon of “wasting months that could have been spent making proper preparations” for the introduction of the passports.
“It’s a striking U-turn from what John Swinney said last month, where he emphatically claimed vaccine passports were ‘the wrong way’ to go,” Mr Ross said.
Scottish Labour’s leader Anas Sarwar said the government had failed to control the pandemic and ensure that Scotland had a functioning testing and tracing system.
He called for mobile vaccine clinics in schools and large workplaces, and asked for assurances the government would consult with the hospitality sector before vaccine passport plans are formally laid before parliament.