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OPINION: Who’s right on vaccine passports? A nightclub boss or a mum desperate for normality

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Vaccine passports are due to be introduced in Scotland at the end of the month.

The plans, to be voted on by MSPs next week, will require people to prove they have had both Covid jabs before they can enter nightclubs and large events.

But the proposals have split opinion. We asked Clare Johnston, a mum of teenage boys, and Tony Cochrane, owner of Dundee nightclubs Club Tropicana and Aura, for their thoughts.

It happens every time I hear the First Minister is due to make a statement on Covid, says Clare Johnston. The familiar sense of dread that the shreds of normality we are scraping together for our children are about to be torn apart again.

For 18 months they’ve been forced to swap memory-making moments for more and more screen time.

My eldest is in his final year at school and I’ve watched him flourish again over just the space of a few weeks as he fights to secure a place on the football team, starts driving lessons, makes new friendships in his classes and begins to plan his future.

Because at this point in time he is looking at a future out there in the world and not behind his bedroom door.

The question now is how do we keep it that way?

First in the queue for jabs

When sixteen and seventeen-year-old become eligible for the vaccine my son was one of the first in that age range through the doors. I asked him if he was happy to get a jab and his answer was, ‘Of course’.

Then my youngest became eligible due to a health condition and he also went for his jab within 48 hours of being notified. He’s terrified of needles. That didn’t stop him.

They have a taste of freedom now and they don’t want to lose it. Who does? But there’s an unavoidable reality that unless more of us step through the doors of the vaccination centres we’re on a sticky wicket.

The vaccines not only hugely reduce our chances of becoming seriously ill, they also reduce our chance of becoming infected in the first place. The simple arithmetic around that is more vaccinated people = lower infection rate.

With the daily cases rate in Scotland at a record high something’s got to give.

A survey for the Scottish government in May 2021 suggested 90% of 18 to 29-year-olds were prepared to get the Covid-19 vaccine, yet the uptake rate is 73%

On the surface that sounds pretty good, but on the ground it’s giving the virus too many opportunities to continue spreading.

So now the Scottish Government has decided to give younger people a nudge with the announcement they intend to introduce vaccine passports in order to gain access to large events or nightclubs.

Vaccine passports a small price to pay

Harsh? Not as harsh as shutting them down again. Not even remotely as harsh as telling kids school is shutting and they’re back to staring at screens again.

Covid is harsh. The situation we have found ourselves stuck in for the past 18 months is harsh. The groundhog day of waking up every morning with no place to go, walking past empty restaurants, pubs and venues where we once had fun.

When Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to introduce these passports I let out a sigh – of relief.

We still have a shot at normality and if keeping it means waving a QR code or a letter on my phone at the door of a venue, I’d rather do that than see that door closed to everyone.

For me, one of the main concerns is the speed of the introduction, says Tony Cochrane. They are planning to impose this vaccine passport in a matter of weeks.

So even if someone says ‘yes, I agree with that’, it’s going to take eight weeks from the first jab to the second one. And then it will take another two weeks until they can get their passport.

In England they gave just over 10 weeks notice. They announced it in mid July that it wasn’t going to be imposed until, I think, mid-October.

Here we’ve decided to be the first place in Britain to have vaccine passports but the last to tell people.

And that’s going to make it impossible for a lot of people to comply.

Staffing crisis will worsen

Staffing is another issue.

We only opened two weeks ago and we’re encouraging people to get the vaccine. So we’ve told all the staff ‘please get it for your own safety as well as customers’.

They’ve all agreed but the ones who went two weeks ago won’t get their second vaccination until mid October.

So what do we do? Do they lose their jobs?

We’ve already got a staff shortage. We were shut for 18 months, we’ve had to try and recruit, re-staff, retrain, and that’s been a struggle.

A lot of the security staff were European and they’ve gone home. A lot of the ones who were left have gone to the vaccination centres where they get double pay.

The other thing is it’s only nightclubs and adult entertainment venues that will be told they have to check.

A pub that holds 600, with a dance floor and music and DJs, won’t have to check anybody.

All that’s doing is moving business sideways.

People will say ‘well if we can’t get in here, we’ll go to the pub around the corner’.

If you don’t want to get vaccinated, or you have medical reasons, or you come from a community that doesn’t agree with it, or if you’re an overseas visitor or from elsewhere in the UK that doesn’t have a Scottish QR code, you can still go out. You just can’t go to certain venues.

Vaccine passports aren’t the solution

Even a tier system would have made more sense. So maybe you can’t get in now unless you’ve had your first jab. And then in three months they up the ante so you have to have had the two.

Instead they’re asking us to do the impossible.

What they really should be doing is working with us, campaigning and encouraging people to get vaccinated.

If you go back to the 80s and the HIV era, the government then worked with the nightclubs because they knew that’s where that pandemic was spreading like wildlife.

We’d like to be a part of the solution. Instead we’re treated as part of the problem when we’ve only been back open for two weeks.

I have no issue with vaccines. I would tell every person coming through the door to get theirs. But instead we’re being left to figure out this logistical nightmare.

It feels like we’re being scapegoated with a bizarre policy that will grab a few headlines but won’t solve the problem.

Covid Scotland: How do I get a vaccine passport and what do I need it for?

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