What’s happening? With only a few weeks to go until COP26, all eyes will be in Glasgow and the dignitaries attending. But the divisive vaccine passport scheme will not be in use at the major summit, which runs from 31 October until 12 November.
Reaction to the news: The confirmation from the Scottish Government has sparked fury from hospitality groups and follows the troubled launch of the vaccine status app on Thursday 30 September.
Speaking to the Scotsman, Scottish Labour said the scheme would have led to “chaos” at the COP26 summit and would add “insult to injury” for businesses forced to abide by the certification rules.
The decision to not use the passport scheme was criticised by the Scottish Hospitality Group, which repeated its calls for the scheme to be scrapped.
The group’s spokesperson, Stephen Montgomery, questioned the decision and asked whether a nightclub or COP26 would pose a bigger risk to public health.
He said: “Hard-pressed hospitality businesses yet again have to suffer restrictions whilst understaffed and failing to recruit people to partake in implementing this policy even on October 18.
“To have thousands of people descend on Glasgow from all around the world with no need for vaccine certification, it undermines the reason why we are doing this in the first place.
“Are the government in the same situation as we are in that they cannot find the staff to police it or are they finally realising there is no point?
“Where is the bigger risk? 30,000 people from all over the world at the SEC or 400 people in a nightclub?”
Why it matters: Up to 30,000 people are expected to descend on Glasgow from November 1 from around the world to attend the climate change conference at the SEC. But no attendee at the main conference or at more than 200 publicly accessible events will need to prove their vaccine status before entering. This goes against the current vaccine passport rules. The vaccine passport has been criticised by hospitality and nightclub owners, with a number of nightclub bosses taking legal action.
What are the current vaccine passport rules? Attendees to events with more than 10,000 people attending simultaneously, or taking place indoors with more than 500 people where not all attendees will be seated, must show their vaccine passport for entry, the regulations state.
Guidance from the Scottish Government adds events related to an exempt event, such as a drinks reception, are also subject to the vaccine passport scheme should the attendance go above 500.
Due to some countries, particularly poorer countries, lacking access to vaccines, COP26 ran a programme to deliver vaccines to delegates in 75 countries who would otherwise been unable to access one.
However, unvaccinated attendees from red list countries must quarantine for ten days prior to the conference, with vaccinated individuals only subject to five days of quarantine.
What are delegates using instead of the vaccine passport? Both the Scottish Government and the UK Government confirmed the stance after Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme came into effect on Friday, October 1. Instead, delegates must show a negative lateral flow test each day to access the main section of the COP26 campus, the conference’s website states.
Alongside daily testing, COP26 delegates will be expected to abide by physical distancing, wear face coverings and use “appropriate greetings”.
The COP26 website adds that “comprehensive” hygiene and ventilation systems are also in place, as well as Covid-19 capacity restrictions in certain rooms.
Scottish Labour said the decision to abandon the scheme for COP26 was an admission vaccine certification in Scotland “isn’t fit for purpose” and had been a waste of “time, energy and money”.
Jackie Baillie, the party’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson, said: “The unworkable scheme would have caused chaos at COP26, but we should be scrapping it altogether instead of picking and choosing where it applies.
“Seeing the biggest event in Scotland get a free pass will add insult to injury for the businesses struggling with the scheme.
“COP26 is a matter of weeks away, but the SNP still seem to be making it up as they go along.
“They have wasted time, energy and money on their shambolic vaccine passport when they should have been focused on how to keep COP26 safe and protect public health.”
Confirmation that COP26 delegates will be exempt from the vaccine passport scheme comes as the Scottish Government failed to produce the criteria and list of “flagship events” that will be exempt from the scheme.
Regulations published by the government states “an event designated by the Scottish ministers as a flagship event according to criteria, and in a list, published by the Scottish ministers” would be exempt from certification requirements.
However, when asked for the criteria, the Scottish Government failed to provide details.
Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The Scottish Government can’t link up Covid ID cards to its own records of vaccine distribution or get the app to work for our domestic population, so it’s unsurprising they’re not even going to try making this work for COP26 attendees. This is a botched and illiberal assault on medical privacy and should be abandoned now.”
Speaking to journalists at the Conservative Party conference, Douglas Ross said he would listen to those working with the vaccine passport scheme rather than deputy first minister John Swinney on whether it was working.
Mr Swinney had told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that the app was working well.
Mr Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories, said: “I think I will listen to those on the ground who says it’s a complete shambles rather than John Swinney who introduced this legislation at great pace with very little consultation, not listening to all the concerns that were raised.
“I think we are going to see time and time again that this system is flawed and it should have been scrapped and at the very least delayed until all these problems were ironed out.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Vaccine certification will not apply inside the COP26 campus area.
“We are working with the UK Government, Public Health Scotland, Glasgow City Council and others to finalise arrangements for delegates attending COP and further information will be made available shortly.”
A version of this article first appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman