Covid passports could be extended in Scotland, says Deputy First Minister

10 November 2021, 07:47 | Updated: 10 November 2021, 15:46

John Swinney addressed MSPs yesterday
John Swinney addressed MSPs yesterday. Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has revealed he may extend the controversial Covid vaccine passport scheme and other public health measures, as he warned of "concerningly high" infection rates which could impact on this year’s Christmas celebrations.

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John Swinney told MSPs on Tuesday that there was an increased risk of the virus spreading "very quickly" over Christmas, raising fears that restrictions might be in place for the second festive period running.

But he was accused of creating "uncertainty" by making "vague statements" by opposition MSPs.

Standing in for both Nicola Sturgeon and health secretary Humza Yousaf who are attending COP26, Mr Swinney said that high vaccine uptake had so far allowed Scotland to be free of stricter restrictions - but that could change if there was a new Covid wave.

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He said just over 4.3m people had received a first jab, 3.9m have had two while more than one million people have received their booster vaccine.

But infection rates have remained high, with around 2500 reported every day.

In his Holyrood statement Mr Swinney hinted that any further increase could impact on Christmas.

"At slightly over 2,500, the number of new cases each day is holding at a concerningly high level," he said.

"The situation is precarious and unpredictable – if the previous pattern, characterised by waves of infection, is repeated, there is a risk that the spread of the virus could, very quickly, increase again during the coming weeks, perhaps over the Christmas period."

He said there were "specific reasons" to suspect case numbers may increase, including colder winter weather, increased time spent indoors, COP26, and people who will "wish to spend time visiting loved ones over the festive period".

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The Government wanted to avoid "strict lockdowns" he said, but "appropriate measures" needed to be taken to "keep the pandemic under control" including the possibility of extending the "Covid certification scheme to bring more settings into scope, such as further indoor hospitality and leisure settings".

Other interventions being explored include improving ventilation, increasing home-working, "and whether changes are needed to extend use of face masks".

He said no decisions had yet been taken and the Government would discuss options with the business sector this week.

However he was immediately accused of "creating uncertainty" by warning that the vaccine passport scheme may be extended.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Scottish Government had "no data" to show it had reduced the spread of the virus.

He added: "Scotland and the UK’s vaccine scheme has been immensely successful - and it should be our main weapon against the virus. Considering reintroducing restrictions at this stage in the pandemic is the wrong approach.

"John Swinney is creating uncertainty with these vague warnings. He talked up the prospect of expanding restrictions on businesses without providing the necessary details about who it might impact or when.

"The SNP Government doesn’t know if their vaccine passport scheme is working, so why are they looking at expanding it? It’s a mind-boggling way to make policy. They’re inventing it on the hoof."

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also criticised Mr Swinney.

"People in possession of a vaccine passport can be just as infectious," he said.

"We warned that Covid ID cards would creep into other sectors. This is the start of that creep."