Covid Scotland: Travellers left as 'second-class citizens' as digital vaccine passport delay throws holiday plans into doubt

Scottish travellers are being treated as “second-class citizens”, with delays in rolling out a digital vaccine passport leaving holidaymakers unable to prove their vaccination abroad, opposition leaders have claimed.

The Scottish Government insists it aims to release an app to make travel easier next month.
The Scottish Government insists it aims to release an app to make travel easier next month.

Critics have taken aim at the Scottish Government over the passport issues, which have thrown the late-season travel plans of holidaymakers from Scotland into doubt, with the risk of having to quarantine, pay for extra tests or be refused entry to venues such as restaurants.

Currently Scots can only get paper confirmation of their vaccination status, despite neighbours in England and Wales being able to do so digitally through a QR code.

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The Scottish Government has awarded a £600,000 contract to Danish IT firm Netcompany, but its own digital scheme still has no launch date despite an aim rolling out a ‘virtual passport’ next month.

Now with some countries like Norway only accepting QR code versions of the vaccine passport, Scots are facing more more limited travel than others in the UK.

Opposition MPs have criticised the Scottish Government for “lagging behind” other administrations and failing to work with Westminster.

Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie said: “Despite months of warnings, the Scottish Government has utterly failed the Scottish people and looks set to inflict further damage on a much beleaguered Scottish travel industry.

“By their sheer incompetence and unwillingness to join the NHS X app scheme in England, develop their own app or provide a QR code with each vaccination, they have made Scots second-class citizens in terms of international travel.

“Families who hoped to be united after months of separation are having more distress and worry piled on by this shambles of a government too focused on doing things different to England than working in the Scottish people's best interests.”

The European Union introduced the EU Covid-19 vaccination passport to get free travel back up and running across the continent.

Norway only accepts QR code versions of the vaccine pass available which come from the app, with paper vaccine certificates not being enough.

France’s system also means people who want to access a range of public places must prove they have either been fully vaccinated, have a negative test, or had the virus and recovered.

This is done through a QR code and is aimed at boosting France’s vaccination rates.

Launched last month, the policy saw more than 237,000 people protest at the weekend, believing the Pass Sanitaire violates the French principles of liberté and egalité.

The French Government is setting up a system for vaccinated non-EU tourists who do not have the QR code app to apply for one.

Another option for Scots is to get tested in a pharmacy in France every three days.

France was previously placed in the "amber plus” system after fears the beta variant was more resistant to the current vaccines.

Reviews of the countries on the green list of UK’s traffic light travel restrictions take place every three weeks, with the previous update on August 4.

However, France has now been removed from the list, ending the requirement for fully jabbed holidaymakers to quarantine on their return.

This week an ex-MSP Cara Hilton revealed her Scottish Covid certificate was not being accepted to get into hospitality venues in France.

The former Labour politician explained it was getting refused because it doesn’t have a QR code.

Scottish Conservative shadow transport secretary Liam Kerr questioned why the issue had arisen when the Scottish Government had “months” to sort it.

He said: “Other parts of the UK have had digital apps available for tourists to use for some time. Scotland is now in real danger of lagging behind, as we open up international travel again.

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“Passengers keen to visit family or go on well-earned holidays cannot miss out as a result of the SNP’s continued delays.

“That will finally give clarity and confidence to passengers and the travel industry as a whole going forward.”

Labour’s Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray claimed the problems were caused by the SNP and revealed the issue was already impacting Scots.

He said: “This is another mess created by the SNP.

“It’s been clear for many months that this technology was necessary, but the SNP Government hasn’t done the prep work. The system isn’t working.

“The result of this oversight is that Scottish tourists are being hit with restrictions abroad and that must be resolved as soon as possible.”

Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie demanded the “embarrassing oversight must be addressed as a matter of urgency”.

She said: “We have known for months that this technology was going to be needed, so it beggars belief that the government haven’t even sorted out the basics.

“Scottish tourists are being blindsided with unfair and unnecessary restrictions abroad, purely as a result of the SNP’s incompetence.”

Rules surrounding international travel have fluctuated since the four nations’ traffic light system was first introduced due to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic.

Initial announcements are made by the UK Government and then confirmed by the Scottish Government.

The regular reviews allow the government to constantly evaluate the Covid risk for different countries, including the emergence of new variants of concern, like the Delta variant first identified in India.

The next travel update is scheduled to take place on either Wednesday, August 25 or Thursday, August 26.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf had previously promised “fully digital Covid status certificates” would be up and running this summer.

However, Nicola Sturgeon then told Holyrood in July it could be autumn before online data is available.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are developing an app to make it easier to show Covid status for international travel.

“This will include vaccination records and we aim to release this next month.”

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