Weddings to escape Scottish Government's vaccine passports plan

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Scotland - ROBERT PERRY /EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Scotland - ROBERT PERRY /EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Scots attending birthday parties at a "late night venue" will be forced to present their vaccine passports from next week but weddings in the same premises will be exempt, hospitality chiefs have warned.

The Scottish Government published updated guidance on the controversial scheme, which comes into force on Friday next week, confirming that vaccine passports would be required to enter licensed premises with dancefloors that serve drinks after midnight.

Following warnings that this will affect hundreds of pubs and hotels, the guidance listed a series of events including weddings, wedding receptions and funeral wakes that will be exempt.

Vaccine certification will also not be required to enter places of religious worship or free events in public spaces, such as a firework display, or to join a mass participation event like a marathon.

However, there was no exemption for other major life events like birthday or wedding anniversary parties being hosted in licensed premises that are caught by the scheme.

The guidance said pubs and hotels that want to avoid forcing their customers to prove they have had both vaccine jabs "can choose to stop the music or close the dancefloor after midnight, and operate without certification".

But Stephen McGowan, an eminent licensing lawyer, tweeted: "Many venues, in doing so, would commit a criminal offence where provision of such entertainment is a condition of licence. So the real option is to adopt the scheme, or close."

Confusion over the scheme intensified as healthcare law and human rights experts told a Holyrood inquiry that vaccine passports could "increase distrust" of the jab rollout and the "case has not been made" by SNP ministers.

From 5am on Oct 1, only adults who can show they are double-jabbed by downloading a QR code will be allowed to enter nightclubs or large events such as concerts and sports matches.

On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon dramatically extended the scheme by including pubs and hotels if they have a "designated space" for dancing and serve alcohol after midnight.

The following day the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) lodged a petition for judicial review asking the courts to declare the policy unlawful.

Premises allowed to take 'graduated approach building up to 100 per cent checks'

According to the updated guidance, affected licensed premises will be allowed to "take a graduated approach building up to 100 per cent checks over the course of the first month of operation".

It said it will be up to each venue operator to decide whether customers need to provide a passport from the time the premises opens, or from when dancing starts.

Duncan McConchie, chair of the Scottish Wedding Industry Alliance, said he was "delighted" as he had been told the exemption for wedding receptions would apply regardless of where they were held.

The Scottish Hospitality Group of pubs and bars tweeted: "Well done for wedding sector, after a hard 18 months on what seems to be an exemption from CCs (Covid certificates), but poor Mum & Dad who fail to have a cert when they attend their child’s 18th or any other life event."

Prof Sir Jonathan Montgomery, from University College London, warned MSPs there was a lack of evidence that the scheme would meet one of Ms Sturgeon's main justifications, to boost vaccine uptake among the young.

'People may respond with increasing distrust of the vaccine programme'

The academic told Holyrood's Covid-19 committee that people may respond "by choosing to avoid" places covered by the scheme, "in which case we're no better off".

He added: "They may respond by increasing distrust of the vaccine programme, and government advice, because they feel that they've been coerced."

Judith Robertson, chairwoman of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, told MSPs that the case for the scheme "has not been made at the moment". She added: "There isn’t a clarity around what evidence has been used to base the decisions on."

Ms Sturgeon told First Minister's Questions the evidence would be published along with the legislation for the vaccine passports by next week.

But Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Tories' Shadow Covid Recovery Secretary, said: "The only thing that has been revealed by today’s announcement, is the extent of the SNP’s faulty reasoning and shoddy planning.

"Scottish pubs and nightclubs have once again been left wondering why they have been unjustly targeted when other large gatherings - which presumably carry equal risks from a healthcare perspective - are exempt."

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