Negative test requirement could 'offset economic harm' of vaccine passport scheme

Introducing proof of a negative test as part of Scotland’s wider vaccine passport rules could “offset economic harm” of the certification scheme, a new evidence paper from the Scottish Government has said.

Scotland’s vaccine certification scheme which sees individuals require proof of two vaccinations to gain entry to large events and nightclubs was brought in at the start of October.

Nicola Sturgeon is set to announce next week whether she will extend the scheme to more settings such as cinemas, restaurants, bars and pubs and whether it will include the option or necessity of a negative lateral flow test result for people to gain entry.

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A new evidence paper published by the Scottish Government states that extending the vaccine passport scheme to new settings could have a major impact on revenue and footfall, but that this could be offset by including an option of a negative test result.

The paper states: “Options that include proof of negative Covid test results (e.g. lateral flow tests) would offset economic harm to a degree because it would increase the number of potential customers able to access the venues (given that not all people eligible to have double vaccination have done so, for a variety of reasons).

"This would apply to business affected by potential expansion of the scheme, and those that already fall within existing requirements.

“Some businesses may also choose to offer lateral flow tests to customers on arrival, potentially increasing their costs.”

The report states that nightclubs and late night settings falling under the scheme had experienced “substantial reductions in footfall and revenue”, adding that should the scheme be extended this impact could be felt by a “potentially large number of businesses and premises”.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney updates MSPs on any changes to the Covid-19 restrictions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture date: Tuesday November 9, 2021.

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It also quotes stats from one trade body that said its members in the night time industries were experiencing footfall reductions of between 20 and 40 per cent, with falls of revenue between 40 and 50 per cent.

This is alongside “several sources of implementation challenges”, the report states.

There has been a total of 1.5 million downloads of the vaccine passport and the paper states that there is evidence it has improved vaccination rates, describing it as a “relatively slight impact on uptake”.

Among young people aged 18-29, vaccination uptake has increased at a “similar rate to England”, but the report states this was from a higher starting point and demonstrated “important progress”.

The study concludes that the scheme has “likely contributed to a small rise in vaccinations” in younger Scots, and that expanding the scheme could “increase the usefulness of certification” in reducing transmission.

Such a move would also encourage unvaccinated older people to get vaccinated, as well as potentially leading “to a better understanding of the fact that the pandemic is still with us” and poses a threat.

Speaking after the publication of the paper, deputy first minister John Swinney said: “With cases rising gradually and pressures on our NHS, our approach is to keep people safe and get through a challenging winter without having to re-introduce any restrictions.

“This paper provides an update of the evidence of the vaccine certification scheme and focuses on the potential impact of a range of options for expanding it. Our vaccine certification scheme is working well, with venues and events affected continuing to operate and more than 1.5 million downloads of the NHS Covid status app so far.

"We want businesses to remain open throughout the Christmas period so it is sensible to consider options available to expand Covid certification. We will continue to consult with hospitality industry representatives and will set out our proposed approach next week.”

The Scottish Conservatives labelled the report as having failed to provide “concrete proof” the scheme is effective.

Murdo Fraser, the party’s Covid recovery spokesperson, said: “John Swinney continues to insists that the SNP’s vaccine certification scheme is ‘working well’, yet in almost 70 pages of their so-called ‘evidence’ document, the SNP Government have failed to provide concrete proof of the scheme’s effectiveness.

“In contrast, the devastating impact on businesses is all too clear.

“The SNP Government has admitted that night-time venues have faced significant trade losses, rising costs and increased abuse of staff as a result of the existing scheme. Yet they are still considering extending the requirements to over 17,000 additional businesses.

“The fact that this lukewarm report is the best the SNP could conjure up in support of this shambolic policy, should tell you all you need to know. The SNP’s vaccine passport scheme has been a mistake from day one, and this evidence paper offers no convincing grounds for its extension.”

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