The Scottish Government’s Covid response has been “made up as it goes along”, Holyrood opposition parties claimed.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday the vaccine certification scheme introduced in October would continue as the country heads towards the festive period.
It means the scheme will not be extended to more venues – a decision described as “welcome relief” from members of the country’s hospitality and food and drink sectors.
But for the first time, proof of a negative lateral flow test will allow access into venues currently required to check vaccination status.
Scottish Labour – which had called for tests to be used – claimed Ms Sturgeon had performed a U-turn after pursuing the covid passport route for too long.
Businesses are not crying wolf, as an SNP MSP claimed. They are raising legitimate concerns.”
Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, Scottish Conservatives
The Scottish Conservatives said businesses were already “scunnered” and were not being listened to by the government.
Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton suggested Ms Sturgeon is only sticking with with the passport scheme out of “embarrassment”.
Hospitality and trade bodies welcomed the decision not to extend the vaccine passport scheme to other businesses, including the cinema, theatre and cafes and restaurants.
But they warned of the damage being done to those enterprises required to check vaccine status.
A spokesperson for Scotland’s Night Time Industry Alliance said it is a “sensible and pragmatic decision”
The alliance said using lateral flow tests is a “positive step” bringing Scotland in line with other European nations.
UK Hospitality Scotland director Leon Thompson, said Ms Sturgeon has “listened” to the evidence.
“This is very good news and provides some respite for businesses working hard to maximise trade across the festive period,” he said.
“The acceptance of a negative lateral flow test may help some businesses currently covered by the scheme. It remains to be seen what it will bring to those hospitality businesses in the late-night economy.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane welcomed the decision not to extend passports but claimed businesses had faced too much uncertainty.
“The Scottish Government released its so-called evidence paper on Friday, but in 70 pages they were unable to offer clear proof of the scheme’s effectiveness,” he said.
“It seems more likely they are making it up as they go along.
“Businesses are scunnered, making them wait even longer with extra costs in the run-up to Christmas, which is a slap in the face.”
“Businesses are not crying wolf, as an SNP MSP claimed. They are raising legitimate concerns.”
SNP ‘ignored everyone’
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the World Health Organisation had always claimed testing is the most effective way to control transmission of the virus.
“Scottish Labour has called repeatedly for the use of lateral flow tests as part of the scheme to reduce transmission,” he said,
“But instead of listening to medical and public health experts and businesses, the First Minister ignored everyone and ploughed on with a passport scheme which doesn’t drive up vaccination rates.”
He added: “Winter is fast approaching, and the First Minister says we are in a precarious situation. We have spent months pursuing the wrong priority.
“I welcome the government’s U-turn today but it is clear that the First Minister has wasted months ignoring experts and the evidence.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton was scathing.
He said: “The Scottish Human Rights Commission has been asking for the scientific evidence for this scheme for two months. We finally got a paper on Friday and it was mince.
“Lateral flow tests are superior to vaccine passports because they actually show who is sick and who is well.”
He asked: “Is it just embarrassment that is preventing the SNP-Green government from admitting that they were wrong to begin with, abolishing vaccine passports and building a scheme around testing?”
Ms Sturgeon said her cabinet of leading ministers made a “finely balanced decision” not to increase the certification schemes’ scope.
She told parliament: “We have taken account of the fact that – although our situation is precarious – cases are currently stable and indeed slightly declining, and we have considered the inevitable impact vaccine certification has on the operation of businesses and concluded that, at this stage, extension would not be proportionate.”
She continued: “We were also mindful of the need over the coming weeks of getting across the message that it is important to be vaccinated and tested ahead of socialising in any setting – including in homes and shopping centres, for example – not just in those that might be covered by a certification scheme.”