Nicola Sturgeon said an extension of the scheme to other hospitality venues would “not be proportionate” given its impact on business.
Customers will be allowed to present a negative lateral flow test (LFT) rather than proof of two jabs to enter venues already covered by the scheme, including nightclubs and concerts, from 6 December.
A decision to add more venues had been anticipated for several weeks after Sturgeon told MSPs it could help “get through what will be a challenging winter without having to reintroduce restrictions on trade.”
Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) managing director Colin Wilkinson said the decision was welcomed by the industry.
However, he said: “It must not be forgotten that Covid passport restrictions remain in place for the late-night industry and the nightclub sectors which have had a devasting impact on their business viability.”
A recent joint industry survey found, for those businesses currently enforcing the policy, 95% have been negatively impacted and 87% had seen trade reduced by over 20%, with some reporting falls in trade of as much as 60% since the introduction of the Covid passport scheme.
A sigh of relief
This reprieve will be a “great relief” to companies fearing a similar negative impact would be mirrored in the wider licensed hospitality sector, particularly at this crucial time of year for the industry, according to Wilkinson.
He said: “The Scottish Government needs to re-evaluate whether the remaining restrictions on this sub-sector are justified and proportionate and for support funding to be put in place for those business currently enforcing the policy.”
UKHospitality Scotland Executive Director Leon Thompson said Sturgeon’s announcement proved Scottish government had listened to the evidence demonstrating the further damage a passport extension would do to the “fragile” sector.
Thompson said the acceptance of a negative lateral flow test could help some companies currently covered by the scheme, yet it remains to be seen what it will bring to business in the late-night economy.
He said: “Scotland will continue to work to ensure that vaccination passports are not expanded in the future and to remove the burden they impose on businesses currently covered by them.”
A step in the right direction
A Night Time Industries (NTIA) spokesperson said whilst NTIA Scotland remain opposed to the application of vaccine passports in late-night settings, today’s announcement was encouraging.
They said: “This is a sensible and pragmatic decision which takes into account the extraordinary harm businesses have suffered as a result of restrictions over the last two years, the lack of evidence that this scheme has any meaningful impact on vaccine uptake, concerns around human rights, and also recognises that the current trajectory of infections and hospitalisations is falling.
“[…] It is a positive step in the right direction LFTS will now be included as an alternative to double vaccination, which will safeguard late night venues in particular, and is something the trade body has advocated for from the inception of this scheme.”
Stephen Montgomery, the group spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: “The Scottish Hospitality Group welcomes the confirmation from the First Minister today that the vaccine certification scheme will not be extended to further hospitality venues.”
He said: “Hospitality is still facing significant challenges and the suffering from the long-term effects of the pandemic, with rising supplier costs and an ongoing recruitment crisis putting real pressure on the industry.
“We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure the Scottish Hospitality sector can fully recover and help in driving Scotland's economy forward."