Nicola Sturgeon
© CREDIT: Jeff J Mitchell
Nicola Sturgeon introduced a two-week grace period for venues on Tuesday
The First Minister announces that bars, hotels and nightclubs will now have until Oct 18 to get arrangements in place

Nicola Sturgeon has delayed the enforcement of her "botched" vaccine passport scheme after the hospitality industry warned it was unworkable and a sharp drop in Covid cases raised more doubts over why it was needed.

Only days before the scheme comes into force, at 5am on Friday, the First Minister announced she was giving the premises where it would apply another two-and-a-half weeks to prepare.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said bars, hotels and nightclubs would now have until Oct 18 to get arrangements in place for checking that their customers have had both vaccine doses.

She said the last-minute announcement of a "grace period", during which venues will not face legal enforcement, showed her government was listening to widespread business concerns about the scheme's implementation.

Updated guidance issued by the Scottish Government also said venues could operate spot checks of their customers during the first four weeks rather than checking everyone.

Delay only adds to chaos and confusion

But Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said Ms Sturgeon's delay was a belated admission that she had "botched" the scheme and urged her administration to "cut its losses" by scrapping it altogether.

He told MSPs she had ignored weeks of business warnings and it would only add to the chaos and confusion "that a scheme that is legally in force won't be enforced".

Trade body UKHospitality Scotland welcomed the delay but said "the reality is that the Scottish Government is not ready to introduce this scheme".

A key part of the First Minister's original justification for the controversial plan was to stem a record surge in Covid levels at the start of this month, but she told MSPs that average daily case numbers have since more than halved, from 6,438 to 3,119.

She also admitted that the "steepest falls" in the past week, of more than a quarter, have been in the 15-to-19 and 20-to-24 age groups that would be most affected by the introduction of passports at late night venues.

However, Ms Sturgeon insisted that the certification scheme was still needed to "help us mitigate the risk the virus poses to us over the winter", when the NHS is expected to come under increased pressure.

Scheme expanded

Only adults who can show they are double-jabbed will be allowed to enter nightclubs or large events such as concerts and sports matches. This could be done by downloading a new NHS Covid status app being launched on Thursday.

Last week Ms Sturgeon dramatically extended the scheme by including pubs and hotels if they have a "designated space" for dancing and serve alcohol after midnight. Weddings and funeral wakes will be exempt but birthday and engagement parties will not.

But the Night Time Industries Association lodged a petition for judicial review asking the courts to declare the policy unlawful and the licensed trade warned it lacked the technology and manpower to implement it.

Announcing the delay in enforcement, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: "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."

Goalposts have shifted

But Mr Ross demanded the plan be scrapped, saying: "It's typical that the SNP has ignored warning after warning from businesses for weeks - but only now does Nicola Sturgeon admit she's botched this scheme.

"Just days before this policy comes into force, the goalposts have shifted. This last-minute partial climbdown reveals just how chaotic the setup of this scheme has been."

Leon Thompson, executive director of UKHospitality Scotland, said: "Many businesses are already planning to remove themselves from scope. For example, pubs planning to close function rooms at midnight to avoid the need to check passports.

"This reduces their ability to trade at full capacity now when they need to generate maximum revenue and undermines financial prospects as we head closer to Christmas."

Highlighting the rapid fall in cases, he said the question remains why the Scottish Government believes Covid passports are necessary."

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross
© Credit: PA
Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross reacts as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave updates to MSPs on changes to Covid-19 restrictions
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: "This is of course welcome news but it would have been better if we didn't have Covid passports at all."

The new guidance said that by law, from Oct 18, the operators of venues caught by the scheme "will commit an offence" if they fail to have a "reasonable and proportionate" system in place accompanied by a compliance plan.

However, it said late night venues could gradually build up spot checks over the first four weeks, adding another 25 per cent of their clientele each week, until they reached 100 per cent compliance.

The document suggested that they hand out wristbands to revellers "upon entry so your venue staff can see who has already provided proof they are vaccinated."

It said the organisers of large-scale events, such as pop concerts and football matches, should try and check the vaccine status of one in five people attending but they "will be expected to carry out as many checks as is reasonably practicable."