Nicola Sturgeon

Judge Sides with Scottish Government on Introduction of Vaccine Passports

A Scottish judge has ruled that the legal challenge launched by the Night Time Industries Association Scotland (NTIA) failed to demonstrate that the Sturgeon Government’s plans to impose vaccine passport checks on nightclubs and other ‘large’ venues are “disproportionate, irrational or unreasonable”. The scheme will now start on Friday as planned. BBC News has the story.

Lord Burns said [introducing vaccine passport checks] was an attempt to address “legitimate issues” of the pandemic in a “balanced way”.

Rejecting the legal challenge, he noted that the plans had been signed off in principle by MSPs, and would be subject to frequent review.

The regulations underpinning the scheme have not yet been published by the Government, but will come into force at 5pm on Friday morning.

However the Government has said the rules will not actually be enforced until October 18th, to give venues time to test their systems.

The vaccine certification scheme will require venues to put in place a “reasonable system” to check the status of customers over the age of 18, with certain exemptions on medical grounds.

Venues affected include nightclubs, unseated indoor events with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor events with more than 4,000 people, and any event with more than 10,000 people in attendance.

The plans were approved by MSPs despite all three opposition parties voting against them, but the NTIA lodged a legal challenge pushing for a delay.

At the Court of Session on Wednesday, QC Lord Keen – a former Advocate General for Scotland – argued that the system was “discriminatory” against certain venues, and “wholly disproportionate”.

He said the status quo should be maintained until ministers could provide a “coherent explanation” for why the scheme was needed, adding that the court should “protect the basic legitimate rights” of the petitioners.

He said ministers were bringing forward regulations “beyond the 11th hour, in the strangest fashion”, adding: “The very fact I have had to say within 24 hours of these regulations coming into force that we haven’t seen them, is itself redolent of the problem that exists here.” …

Announcing his decision on Thursday morning, Lord Burns said he did not accept that the petitioners had demonstrated the scheme was “disproportionate, irrational or unreasonable”, or that it infringed on their rights.

He said it was “an attempt to address the legitimate issues identified in a balanced way”, and was within the margin of what the Government could decide was a reasonable response to the pandemic.

While Lord Keen had argued the decision to set up the scheme had been taken without any supporting evidence having been published, Lord Burns said the decision was “made on the basis of principle and broad outline” with details to follow.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Government Faces Legal Action Over Vaccine Passports

Nicola Sturgeon’s plans to introduce vaccine passports at nightclubs and ‘large’ events on October 1st face disruption from the industry body that represents the country’s nightclubs. The group is seeking to launch a legal challenge against the Scottish Government over what it calls a “deeply flawed and incoherent” policy. The Guardian has the story.

The Night Time Industries Association Scotland (NTIA)… has now instructed lawyers to seek a judicial review of the proposals.

The group said the scheme has been drafted without meaningful industry consultation and that the definition of “nightclub” set out by Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, is likely to impact thousands of other bars and pubs.

The Scottish Government has faced repeated criticism over the plans from opposition parties concerned with infringement of civil liberties as well as sports and industry leaders who have described them as unworkable and a threat to livelihoods.

Despite some Scottish ministers previously expressing reservations about vaccine passports, including Patrick Harvie, the Co-Leader of the Scottish Greens who last week entered a power-sharing agreement with the Holyrood Government, Sturgeon insists they are “proportionate” as a tool to curb rising Covid infections before the autumn.

On Tuesday, Sturgeon set out the definition of a nightclub drawn up for use with the scheme, this being a venue open between midnight and 5am, serving alcohol, having a designated area for dancing and providing live or recorded music for this purpose.

She said a “pragmatic approach” would be encouraged, “so that businesses can make sensible judgments.”

But the head of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Liz Cameron, immediately responded that it would extend to many more hotels, pubs and other venues than expected with “thousands” of businesses now caught up in the rules, “with little time left to understand, plan and implement them before the deadline”.

Mike Grieve, chair of NTIA Scotland, said: “Having disregarded input from NTIA Scotland in discussions since the vaccine passport policy was announced, and having forced a rush vote through Scottish parliament, the Scottish Government have now confirmed that this deeply flawed and incoherent policy will come into effect from October 1st, focusing the negative attention on one small subsection of society, and all the economic damage on the sector already most affected by the pandemic.”

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Opposition and Business Leaders Criticise Sturgeon’s Vaccine Passport Plans

Nicola Sturgeon faces criticism from opposition parties and business leaders on her plans to force ‘large venues’ to check vaccine passports. The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader says his party is “fundamentally opposed” to vaccine passports and the Chair of the Night Time Industries Association Scotland says the plans are “completely incoherent”. But will this be enough? Guardian has more.

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, had previously described passports as “the wrong way to go”, while the Scottish Greens – who last week entered a power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Government – described them as “discriminatory”.

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, told the Holyrood chamber at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday that the proposal represented “shambolic, last-minute, kneejerk decision-making” and suggested that tensions were already emerging between the SNP and the Scottish Greens.

Sturgeon replied that she believed businesses were showing “understanding and pragmatism… in recognition of the severity of the situation we face”.

But Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, earlier issued a warning that the plans would have “significant unintended consequences” for clubs, with the proposals for events of more than 10,000 people affecting Scotland games and some Scottish Premiership matches.

He told BBC Sport Scotland: “It’s not clear what IT infrastructure will be in place, what timescales clubs will be asked to work to, or what can be done for those without smartphones.

“And it’s not clear if it’s going to cut across terms and conditions of seasons tickets already bought by people across the land.”

Although Sturgeon said on Wednesday that she hoped not to extend the measure to other venues, the Managing Director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Colin Wilkinson, described it as a “threat hanging over the whole of the hospitality industry”.

Worth reading in full.

Vaccine Passports are Unnecessary, Unsupportable and Totalitarian

I’ve written a comment piece for Mail+ today about why the PM should shelve his plans for vaccine passports. I think that’s unlikely, given that Nicola Sturgeon has just announced Scotland will be introducing them for large indoor and outdoor venues later this month, but let’s hope Boris grows a pair. Here is an extract:

We now have strong evidence that the Covid vaccines don’t hugely prevent you getting infected or infecting others. If they did, Israel and Iceland would not currently be in the midst of their biggest waves so far. After all, both countries have been world leaders when it comes to vaccinating their populations against COVID-19, with 72.9% of Iceland’s population being double jabbed and 60.6% of Israel’s.

The number of daily Covid deaths in both countries is lower than it was in earlier waves, suggesting the vaccines reduce the risk of dying from the disease. But the early trial data suggesting they cut the risk of infection by more than 90% seems inaccurate.

Vaccine passports do not stop people in nightclubs from infecting each other, but they might lull customers into a false sense of security, persuading them to throw caution to the wind.

Another problem with Boris’s proposal is that the protection the vaccines give you starts to wear off after about six months, hence the Government’s recent order for 35 million booster shots from Pfizer. It’s one thing asking people to get double-jabbed in return for a vaccine passport, quite another to insist they’ll have to renew those passports by getting a booster every six months.

I doubt the NHS’s computer system would be able to cope. Earlier this week, more than 700,000 people were affected by technical glitches, meaning they weren’t able to download an NHS ‘Covid Pass’ in spite of being double-jabbed.

Worth reading in full.

Nicola Sturgeon Once Again Refuses to Rule Out Further Lockdowns

Not for the first time, Nicola Sturgeon has hinted that Scotland could be plunged into yet another lockdown due to rising ‘cases’, saying that the country is now at a “fragile and potentially pivotal moment”. The National has the story.

Speaking at a Scottish Government coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, the First Minister said the daily case figure [of 4,323 on Tuesday] is “the largest we have ever recorded in a single day”.

She said new cases in Scotland have more than doubled in the past week, making this “one of the sharpest rises we have experienced at any point during the pandemic”.

And she warned Scotland is now at a “fragile and potentially pivotal moment” in the fight against the virus as vaccinations have weakened the link between cases and serious harm but not completely broken it.

“Even with vaccination we can’t be totally relaxed about this surge in cases,” Sturgeon said.

“The link between new cases and serious health harms has weakened significantly but it has not been completely broken.

“That means the rise in cases in the last week may well result in people having to go to hospital in the coming days and perhaps requiring intensive care treatment and unfortunately a rise in cases like… I consider likely to be the case in an increase in the number of people dying. 

“This means that if this surge continues and if it accelerates and if we start to see evidence of a substantial increase in serious illness as as result we cannot completely rule out having to reimpose some restrictions.” …

During the briefing the First Minister said she wanted life in Scotland to remain “normal” and that large scale outdoor events were less a cause for concern than indoor events.

She also suggested schools remaining open would be a priority for her Government. …

She added: “In terms of the restrictions that are still in place with schools [with secondary pupils required to wear face masks in class] we said the basic mitigations would be in place for at least six weeks after the return of schools…

“So we are not yet at the point of formally reviewing… we will keep mitigations in place for as long as we think is necessary to provide protection for young people and staff in schools but for no longer than we judge as necessary.”

Worth reading in full.

Sturgeon Won’t Rule Out Further Lockdowns, as Restrictions Partially Eased in Scotland

Restrictions have been partially eased in Scotland today, but it’s not all good news. Scots must continue to wear face masks on public transport and inside public spaces and, more worryingly, Nicola Sturgeon has refused to rule out introducing further lockdowns in the future, saying: “Keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.” She told BBC Breakfast (as quoted in the Guardian):

This has been a long, hard year-and-a-half, but we’ve got to continue to exercise care and caution – this virus is unpredictable, and I think it’s true that we underestimate it at our peril. …

Every fibre of my being hopes that the restrictions we are lifting today in Scotland will never, ever have to be imposed, and am I optimistic about that? Yes.

Can I guarantee it? Well, I could tell you that right now for the sake of an easier interview, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to say because keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.

We also know that this is a virus that has already mutated, new variants continue to be our biggest threat, so we’ve got to be careful and we’ve got to be realistic.

But I very much hope that all of that, coupled, of course, principally with the power of vaccination, will mean that never again do we have to face lockdowns.

Worth reading in full.

JCVI Could Recommend Giving 16 and 17 Year-Olds Covid Vaccine “In Days”, Says Nicola Sturgeon

16 and 17 year-olds in the U.K. could soon be called up to get vaccinated against Covid, according to Nicola Sturgeon. The Scottish First Minister suggested that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) could offer new advice “in the next few days” on the vaccination of this younger age group. The Guardian has the story.

Just two weeks after the [JCVI] recommended against routine vaccination of children, the Scottish First Minister revealed that she “hoped” over-16s would get the go-ahead to receive it after all.

Two Government sources confirmed that the JCVI was looking again at widening its recommendation for children over 12. Jabs for this age group are currently limited to those who are clinically vulnerable or live with someone at risk.

Anthony Harnden, a member of the committee, said: “JCVI is in the process of finalising updated advice on the offer of vaccination of children and young people.”

Ministers are believed to have been in favour of older children getting access to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, but the JCVI said they should not routinely be available to children who do not have a specific risk factor.

One of the concerns that the scientists raised, linked to the Pfizer jab, was about inflammation around the heart, with the JCVI concluding that the benefits did not outweigh the risk to those who would be receiving the jabs. …

Professor Rowland Kao, a participant in the the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) and an Epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Per capita, older teenagers currently have the highest risk of Covid infection, and vaccinating 16 and 17 year-olds should reduce this.” …

Making a statement to the Scottish parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Sturgeon said she was “hoping” to get the updated advice from the JCVI “over the next day or so”.

During the subsequent question-and-answer session with MSPs, Sturgeon said: “The JCVI are our advisory body so they have to give us the advice they think is right and I respect that. I am hoping it will recommend going further on the vaccination of young people.

“I am particularly concerned if possible to get vaccinations to 16 and 17 year-olds, which is obviously important for those who will be, for example, going to college and university and mingling with older young people who are vaccinated. But we’ll see what that advice brings and we stand ready to implement that as quickly as possible.”

She later said she was hoping and “veering towards expecting” the committee to recommend further vaccination of people in the 12 to 18 year-olds age group, and in particular “hopeful that we will see some updated recommendations in relation, as a priority as a first part of this, for 16 and 17 year-olds”.

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown “Likely” to be Extended in Scotland, Says Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland is set to follow in England’s footsteps in delaying the easing of its lockdown. Nicola Sturgeon says that restrictions will “likely” be maintained for three more weeks from June 28th to “buy ourselves sufficient time” to fully vaccinate more Scots. The Independent has the story.

Speaking in Holyrood, the First Minister did not rule out the further relaxation of rules – moving to Level Zero – on June 28th but said the Scottish Government wanted to “buy ourselves sufficient time” to allow the vaccination programme to continue its work.

She suggested that Scotland would not return to “much greater normality” until later in July at the earliest.

“Given the current situation – and the need to get more people fully vaccinated before we ease up further – it is reasonable to indicate now that I think it unlikely that any part of the country will move down a level from June 28th,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“Instead, it is likely that we will opt to maintain restrictions for a further three weeks from June 28th and use that time to [vaccinate] – with both doses – as many more people as possible.

“Doing that will give us the best chance, later in July, of getting back on track and restoring the much greater normality that we all crave.”

Ms Sturgeon said it was a “difficult and frustrating” development but “while this setback is not easy, it is worth remembering that we are living under far fewer restrictions now than was the case a few weeks ago”.

She added: “The current situation is not what any of us want – but equally it is not lockdown. And vaccination is – with every day that – helping us change the game.”

Level Zero is described as “near normal” but a number of restrictions still exist, including limits on the number of people individuals can meet socially in groups, and people are still advised to work from home where possible.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Children Will Be Vaccinated “as Quickly as Possible”, Says Nicola Sturgeon

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to tell U.K. leaders this month that the vaccination of children against Covid is a “political” decision, without offering a firm recommendation either way. If the use of the Pfizer vaccine in 12-16 year-olds is approved by the body, Nicola Sturgeon says Scottish children will be vaccinated “as quickly as possible”. The Telegraph reports that planning on a vaccine roll-out scheme for children aged 12 and over has started already.

In a statement at Holyrood, [the First Minister] acknowledged that giving children Covid jabs could provide them with greater protection and minimise any further disruption to schooling.

However, she refused to guarantee that any rollout would be completed by the start of the new school year in August, noting that vaccine supplies “are not limitless”.

Ms Sturgeon also pointed out that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the U.K.’s medicines regulator, has so far only approved the Pfizer vaccine for use among 12 to 15 year-olds.

Pfizer said its trials had shown 100% efficacy and a strong immune response in children between 12 and 15, and also suggested that the vaccine was safe with no unusual side effects.

Its use among children in the U.K. was approved by the MHRA last Friday, with the regulator saying it had carried out a “rigorous review” which showed the vaccine was safe and effective in adolescents.

The JCVI must now advise governments on whether this age group should be vaccinated as part of the U.K. roll-out.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “Vaccination may well be an important way of giving children greater protection, minimising any further disruption to schooling and further reducing community transmission of the virus.

“And so I can confirm that if the JCVI recommends the use of the vaccine for children aged 12 and over, we will move as quickly as possible to implement the advice.”

She later said: “In anticipation of the JCVI giving the go-ahead to vaccination of over-12s, we’ve already started that planning.”

Ms Sturgeon said children with underlying health conditions may be vaccinated first but she could not yet provide a timescale for when pupils would get their jabs. However, she emphasised that the focus remained on vaccinating the adult population.

The First Minister’s announcement came as she refused to reduce Covid restrictions in any part of Scotland, blaming a 50% rise in cases over the past week due to the Indian variant.

School leaders in England have also called on Boris Johnson to vaccinate schoolchildren against Covid before the start of the summer holidays, citing concerns over the Indian Delta Covid vaccine. 

The Telegraph report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance has raised “grave concerns” about the emergency authorisation of the Pfizer vaccine for children in an urgent open letter to the MHRA.

Given that these vaccines will have virtually no benefit to the children themselves, it is profoundly unethical and indefensible to vaccinate children, especially with an experimental vaccine using novel technology, in what appears to be a misguided attempt to protect adults and achieve herd immunity. We call on the MHRA to exercise caution and immediately reverse their decision.

The letter is worth reading in full.

Lockdown Restrictions to be Eased Across Most of Scotland on Monday

Restrictions on meeting both indoors and outdoors will be partially eased across most of Scotland on Monday. Pubs will also be able to sell alcohol indoors once again. It’s bad news for those who live in Moray, however, where current restrictions are expected to remain in place. BBC News has the story.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the rest of mainland Scotland [other than Moray] would move to level two restrictions from May 17th.

Some islands will move to level one restrictions on the same date.

Under the level two restrictions, up to six people from three households will be able to meet in their homes, and can also stay overnight.

And Ms Sturgeon said it would also be possible for people to hug their loved ones again from Monday.

Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs or restaurants, which will be allowed to stay open until 10.30pm – and up to six adults from three households will be able to meet indoors in a public place.

Restrictions on meeting up outdoors will ease further, to enable up to eight adults from eight different households to gather.

Adult outdoor contact sports and indoor group exercises will be able to resume.

Cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades are also likely to be able to reopen, and outdoor and indoor events like concerts can restart – although capacity may initially be limited.

Yesterday, it was reported that Zero Covid deaths occurred in the last 24 hours in Scotland (as well as in England and Northern Ireland). Despite the continual fall in cases and deaths, and the success of the vaccine rollout north of the border, a further easing of restrictions is not expected to occur until June.

Worth reading in full.