Nicola Sturgeon has delayed the start of legal enforcement of Scotland’s new vaccine passports by 17 days after a backlash from nightclub and venue owners.
The first minister’s concession comes after the nightclub industry launched legal action against the rules, which force customers at venues and large sports and music events to prove they have had both Covid vaccinations or are exempt.
Sturgeon told MSPs on Tuesday she accepted that venues needed more time to adjust to the regulations and work out how they could be applied. Opposition leaders said the delay justified criticisms of the scheme from across the hospitality and entertainment sectors.
She said the regulations would still come into force at 5am on Friday 1 October but with a new grace period until 18 October before businesses would face legal action for non-compliance.
“The government is persuaded that a Covid certification scheme will help us mitigate the risk the virus poses to us over the winter,” she said. “However, the pragmatic compromise that I have just outlined in relation to a staged introduction of the scheme demonstrates, I hope, that we are listening to business about the practical challenges they face.”
The Night Time Industries Association (Scotland), which was seeking a judicial review of the regulations, said the new rules would set back the ailing sector’s economic recovery.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission has warned it could discriminate against the deprived and people from minority ethnic groups.
The rules require anyone aged 18 and over to provide evidence of their full vaccination or exemption before entering a nightclub, an unseated indoor event with more than 500 people, an unseated outdoor event with more than 4,000 people or any gathering with more than 10,000 attendees.
Sturgeon said a new Scottish NHS smartphone app, which shows someone’s vaccination status, would go live on Thursday. Customers could also use a printed vaccination certificate or a digital record as evidence.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, urged her to abandon the vaccine passports, which have been dropped by UK ministers for England but will be used in Wales from 11 October.
“Just days before this policy comes into force, the goalposts have shifted,” Ross said. “This last-minute partial climbdown reveals just how chaotic the setup of this scheme has been.”
Sturgeon also confirmed the Scottish government would reluctantly align Scotland’s rules, which would relax the rules for post-arrival testing of international travellers with England’s, once they are confirmed. She said the number of holidaymakers travelling via English airports to Scotland made it pointless trying to apply separate rules at Scottish airports.