Hospitality bosses says vaccine passports 'totally futile' as four-nations plan considered

Scottish hospitality bosses have dismissed the idea of vaccine passports or certificates as “totally futile” and warned they would create an age-segregated society.

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), which represents some of Scotland’s largest bar and restaurant groups, said that a certification system would discriminate against young people, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he would consider the policy over coming days.

Any announcement is likely to also apply to Scotland as the devolved governments are taking a “four nations” approach to the policy.

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The Scottish Government’s Vaccine Deployment Plan framework, which was updated earlier this week, says that certification may be used in future to open up the economy and international travel.

Douglas Barr drinks his pint outside The Last Drop on the Grassmarket. Picture: Lisa FergusonDouglas Barr drinks his pint outside The Last Drop on the Grassmarket. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Douglas Barr drinks his pint outside The Last Drop on the Grassmarket. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also said on Thursday that he believed some sort of vaccine certification would be necessary in future.

Earlier this month, Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch warned that vaccine passports would have “massive implications” for the Scottish public and could create inequalities, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she saw “issues” surrounding the idea.

The Scottish Government report stated: “Going forward, a vaccine certificate programme may have the potential at the right time to support other non-pharmaceutical interventions in the opening up of international travel and the domestic economy in line with work being carried out as part of the World Health Organisation Safer Vaccinations Programme.

"However, more information is needed on vaccine efficacy and how long immunity lasts before it is possible to assess whether such a programme will be appropriate in Scotland.”

SHG spokesman Stephen Montgomery said: “The introduction of vaccine passports for hospitality in Scotland would not only be impractical, but totally futile and risks discriminating against large portions of the population.

“Vaccine passports would lay yet another level of red tape on a sector that has faced the brunt of restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The passports could be forged easily and would risk creating a segregated society with young people, who will be last to receive the vaccine.”

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He added: “It is the public’s choice if they go to a pub, bar or restaurant, and it would be totally unethical to take that away. It isn’t as if there is discussion about supermarkets or retail being required to check vaccine passports on entry – they don’t even have track and trace – so to add even more restrictions on hospitality is just totally absurd.

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“It would be much more sensible to protect staff working in hospitality, who are predominantly under the age of 25, and prioritise them to receive the vaccine first, which would help to speed up the reopening of the sector, save jobs and keep the public safe.”

Mr Johnson said on Thursday that he may make an announcement on the idea of a vaccine passport in April – but said that it was likely it would not be introduced until all adults had been offered the vaccine.

He said: "You might only be able to implement a thorough-going vaccination passport scheme even if you wanted such a thing in the context of when absolutely everybody had been offered a vaccine."

In the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who is leading a Westminster review into the possible use of coronavirus passports or status certificates to allow people to visit pubs and other venues, told MPs: "A system that relied purely on vaccination would not be appropriate – that what would be right was a system that ensured we could open up our economy to the maximum extent that takes into account both of vaccine status, but also of recent test status and indeed potentially also antibody status as well."

Mr Sarwar said he saw vaccine passports as necessary for international travel, but said he did not necessarily back the idea for the hospitality sector.

He said: “The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel. But the vaccine itself doesn't mean we get rid of Covid-19 – we still need to have an effective testing and tracing policy, which is not yet up to the standard it needs to be across the country.

"I think we do need some kind of certification in terms of having had the vaccine – less so in terms of access to restaurants and hospitality.

"I think it’s going to be more important when we eventually start to open the country back up again, when we start to have a lot more international travel again, not just in terms of holiday travel, but in opening up the economy to bring in the investment we need to come into the country.

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"Having the ability to say ‘yes, I’ve had my vaccine’, if you’re leaving the country to go somewhere else or people coming in to do business in Scotland, we would know with certification that they had had their vaccine and that’s a really important part in rebuilding our economy and getting confidence back into our economy.”

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the Covid Symptom Tracker app study run by King's College London, said any vaccine passport would have to be digital.

He said: “It was always obvious to me that vaccine passports were going to come in. Bits of paper are not going to be that.

"It's got to be digital, it's got to be something on your phone and I think that's going to be useful in some scenarios.

"We just need to get used to it and bite the bullet, in a way, because it's going to affect our travel outside this country as well, so we might as well get our own system in order.

"It has got to be a simple system – that should be quite possible – and everyone gets a unique code number from their vaccine that can be checked."

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