Covid Scotland: Hospitality businesses accused of 'crying wolf' over vaccine passports

Hospitality businesses have been accused of “crying wolf” over vaccine passports, with a SNP MP saying the industry is not being taken seriously due to repeated warnings of economic strife.

The SNP’s John Mason told representatives at the Covid-19 recovery committee on Thursday that hospitality bodies are “overstating” their case.

"Do you not think you’ve been overstating your case and a certain amount of crying wolf?” he asked.

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“People are not taking you seriously because you use strong language like ‘devastating’,” Mr Mason added, saying restaurants he had visited in Edinburgh and Glasgow in recent weeks had been “packed”.

Pubs could have to require vaccine passports under new measures.

"Do you not think you are somewhat exaggerating it?”

Gavin Stevenson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said venues which did use vaccine passports had seen a “significant” decrease in trade.

"The challenge that we’ve got here is that all the venues you’ve just mentioned currently do not have to use vaccine passports, therefore would have substantially less impact from the current implementation of vaccine passports,” he told Mr Mason.

His comments came as the hospitality and leisure businesses gave evidence to the committee amid Scottish Government plans to extend vaccine passports.

The government is next week to confirm plans to extend the passport to other businesses from December 6.

Trade bodies said any extension to the scheme would hit businesses in the “critical” Christmas period.

Mr Stevenson argued people being turned away from venues could also potentially impact public health.

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He said: “People who are excluded from going into hospitality venues because they haven't got a Covid passport or perhaps because they haven't been double vaccinated, it would be naive to think that these people are going to go home and put their pyjamas on and watch television.

"We have seen, in previous waves of the pandemic, substantial increases in house parties and in gatherings and unregulated settings, where there will be significantly fewer baseline mitigations being enforced, where there may be worse ventilation, where you wouldn't have that regulated environment for people to gather in.”

Leon Thompson, executive director for Scotland at UKHospitality, said: “What we found with the the introduction of the scheme as it exists at the moment, is that it took quite a long time for members of public to get their QR codes sorted out and be in a position to start using them.

“Given that we're moving into a critical time for hospitality businesses – Christmas trade and so on – if the public is not ready for this, then businesses will suffer.”

Barry McCulloch, head of policy at the Federation of Small Business Scotland, said: “Almost all businesses will accept that there's some public health measures, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't really scrutinise the additional measures like the extension of the vaccine certification scheme.”

“I do also think that it's important to talk about the timing and process points here. We could have formally evaluated the merits of this policy in the summer, but now we're designing and potentially implementing the scheme at breakneck speed ahead of a really key trading period.”

Other sectors said they would also be hard hit by further measures.

Extending passports to venues like leisure centres "sends out a message" those venues are not safe, the head of Community Leisure UK warned.

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