Scotland to Close Nightclubs For At Least Three Weeks

Starting from December 27th, the Scottish Government will force all nightclubs to close for at least three weeks in an attempt to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. John Swinney, the SNP Deputy First Minister has promised to give affected businesses financial support, and has recommended that these venues temporarily convert themselves into bars so they can adhere to social distancing rules to remain open. BBC News has more.

Swinney said nightclubs would have the option to stay open by effectively becoming a bar, but physical distancing and table service would need to be in place.

He said: “We consider that closure in regulations, combined with financial support, may reduce losses and help these businesses weather what we hope will be a short period until they are able to operate normally again.”

People in Scotland have not been told to cancel their Christmas plans, but have been urged to stay at home as much as possible throughout the rest of the festive period and to limit any gatherings to three households.

Swinney told MSPs that there had been a “rapid acceleration of cases driven by the Omicron variant” in recent weeks, with concerns that the faster-spreading strain could overwhelm health services despite early evidence that fewer people are needing hospital treatment than with other variants.

The Deputy First Minister said “we have to reduce dramatically the level of social interaction if we want to interrupt the circulation of Omicron”.

Nightclubs were only allowed to reopen in August, having been shut for longer than almost every other sector during the pandemic, and had been subject to vaccine certification rules since October.

The Scottish Conservatives said closing them again was “a further setback to a sector already on its knees”.

MSP Murdo Fraser said: “I understand that this is a fast-moving situation, but when announcing this enforced shutdown, John Swinney should have spelt out the exact details of the support package that will be given to nightclub businesses.

“The SNP Government has been given an extra £440 million in assistance from the U.K. Government. They need to get that money out the door and into the hands of beleaguered Scottish businesses immediately.”

National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said the decision to close nightclubs took account of typically younger crowds who may not be vaccinated.

Speaking to the BBC’s Lunchtime Live programme, he said: “The thing that really scares us about this [variant] is its attack rate. That’s why you can hear our tone and our fear rising a little.

“It’s one of the reasons nightclubs have unfortunately had to be closed down. That population tends to be slightly less protected not because they’re not actually coming forward in big numbers but because it’s taken us a bit longer to get to that age group. It’s an environment in which the virus enjoys.”

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Nightclubs Get Around Vaccine Passport Rules by Putting Furniture on Dance Floors

Scottish nightclubs have discovered a loophole in the vaccine passport scheme whereby if they put chairs on the dance floor they are no longer classified as nightclubs and can ignore the rules. This has led to claims that the scheme has descended into “a shambolic mess”. The Telegraph has more.

Lulu, a major nightclub in Edinburgh, has begun marketing itself to unvaccinated Scots by advertising the fact that door staff will not be carrying out checks on whether customers have been jabbed.

Nightclubs and other venues, such as stadiums and concert venues hosting major events, have been legally obliged to check customers’ vaccination records in Scotland since last month.

However, despite describing itself as “Edinburgh’s best nightclub” and being open until 3am, Lulu said it technically no longer qualified as a nightclub under Scottish government rules because it had placed seats on its dance floor.

In several social media posts promoting the changes, introduced at the weekend, the venue boasted that “normal service” had resumed and added: “You don’t need [a] vaccine passport to party with us.”

Under the legal definition, only venues with a space “provided for dancing by customers” are classed as a nightclub, meaning those that install seating instead can claim they are outside the scheme’s scope. Hospitality industry representatives said clubs across Scotland were exploiting the loophole so they could ignore vaccine passport rules.

“SNP ministers should be embarrassed that they designed such a mess of a scheme,” Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative spokesman for Covid recovery, said.

“The vaccine passports guidance is so shambolic that places which are clearly not nightclubs are being billed as nightclubs, and places that are clearly nightclubs are managing to use loopholes to claim they’re not.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Scottish nightclub owners can locate their nearest branch of IKEA here.

Scottish Hospitality Venues Closing Early Due to Vaccine Passport Scheme

Following the recent enforcement of Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme, members of staff have had to turn away potential customers at the door if they fail to show the correct documentation required for entry. This has led to a severe decrease in footfall, with some businesses electing to close early. BBC News has the story.

Venue staff refused entry to revellers without vaccine passports more than 550 times, and some staff were abused, the Scottish Hospitality Group said.

It said some venues decided to close early and footfall was down by up to 40%.

The Scottish Government said the scheme was a “proportionate” health measure.

Ministers say it will encourage more people to get vaccinated against Covid and ensure late-night venues can remain open during a “potentially very difficult” winter.

The vaccine certification scheme was introduced on October 1st but there was no enforcement during a 17-day “grace period” as venues adjusted to the new requirements.

The Scottish Hospitality Group, which opposes the scheme, said the first real test this weekend had been “one of unmitigated disaster”.

“The Scottish Hospitality Group has been warning the Government for weeks that their vaccine passports scheme is not ready, but the Government’s attitude has been to tell us to ‘get on with it’ whilst offering no safety net of support for businesses or our hard working staff”.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Businesses to Boycott Vaccine Passport Scheme

The Scottish Government’s vaccine passport scheme hasn’t exactly got off to a flying start. First, there were complaints that the NHS Scotland Covid app does not work and now a number of businesses have vowed to ignore the scheme altogether (for the moment, at least). The Telegraph has the story.

Hours after the rules came into force on Friday morning, the controversial scheme was thrown into disarray when Aberdeen FC abandoned plans to check fans’ vaccination status for Sunday’s fixture against Celtic, blaming “major problems” with a £600,000 app.

Meanwhile, hospitality sector bosses said nightclubs would also ignore rules which required them to check revellers’ status, branding the situation as “farcical”.

The Scottish Government warned the public on Friday morning that proof of vaccination was “now needed” to access nightclubs and large events such as concerts and football matches.

However, in a major reversal, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Health Secretary, later claimed that nobody should be denied entry this weekend if they failed to show proof of vaccination, and admitted the widespread technical problems may take “days” to fix. …

Ms. Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that businesses would not be punished for failing to enforce rules until October 18th, so that they could test and “build confidence” in the system.

However, new laws came into force at 5am on Friday, and it was expected that the scheme would be operational this weekend on a trial basis.

Aberdeen FC, along with Rangers and Hearts, had originally said fans must prove they had been vaccinated this weekend to gain access to stadiums, despite the enforcement delay. However, Aberdeen said it had scrapped the system for tomorrow’s fixture and that “nobody will be asked to show proof of vaccine”.

The club complained that its ticket office had been inundated with fans worried they would be turned away because they were unable to get the app to work.

Rangers and Hearts also confirmed that nobody would be refused entry to fixtures this weekend. …

Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said many nightclubs would scrap plans to use the technology this weekend.

“How can businesses check what people can’t get?” he said. “Clearly the delay in enforcement until the 18th was because this wasn’t ready. This really is farcical.”

Worth reading in full.

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.

Wales to Introduce Vaccine Passport Checks at Nightclubs and Large Events Next Month

Vaccine passports may have been ruled out in England (for now), but the Welsh will be forced to prove they have been vaccinated or recently tested negative for Covid to get into nightclubs and ‘large events’ from next month. Sky News has the story.

From October 11th, anyone over 18 will have to show either an NHS Covid pass proving their vaccine status or a negative test result in order to enter nightclubs, indoor non-seated events for more than 500 people, outdoor non-seated events for more than 4,000 people, and any event with more than 10,000 attendees.

The Welsh Government said the measure is being introduced to help reduce the spread of coronavirus as infection rates reach “high levels” in the country.

A Covid pass shows if a person has been fully vaccinated and also if someone has had a negative lateral flow test within the past 48 hours.

A nightclub trade body had warned First Minister Mark Drakeford that Covid certificates would have a “hugely detrimental impact on trade, and would result in some of the hardest-hit Welsh businesses losing out to those in England”.

In a letter to the First Minister, Benjamin Newby from the Night Time Industries Association added: “With no criteria to identify ‘nightclubs’, and with local authorities differing in licensing conditions, any implementation of vaccine certification will be inevitably arbitrary.”

He warned there would be confrontations between staff and annoyed customers, and potential fraud.

The Lib Dems and Conservatives in the Senedd also expressed concerns and called on ministers to not implement the scheme.

Mr Drakeford has also encouraged everyone to work from home if possible and make sure they are fully vaccinated, but said the alert level will remain at zero for the next three weeks.

Worth reading in full.

Could Boris Bottle It on Vaccine Passports?

A leaked letter from Government lawyers reveals that “no final policy decision has yet been taken” on introducing vaccine passports in nightclubs and other “large venues”, sparking confusion among hospitality leaders. Hugh Osmond, the Founder of Punch Taverns, sums the mess up nicely: “As so often, rushed rhetoric without any thought to the implications, practicalities or ramifications.” The Sunday Telegraph has the story.

The Prime Minister had said that full vaccination will be a condition of entry for nightclubs and large venues by the end of September, in a move that sparked a backlash by hospitality industry leaders and divided opinion among ministers.

But in a letter written on behalf of Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, last week, the Government Legal Department stated that “no final policy decision has yet been taken” in relation to the issue, adding that “any further announcements will be made in due course”.

The letter appears at odds with comments by Boris Johnson who has said those attending nightclubs and “other venues where large crowds gather” in England will need to be fully vaccinated from that date. …

On Friday afternoon, a Government spokesman simply said that “we reserve the right” to require the NHS Covid Pass “in certain settings”.

But on Saturday night, Number 10 intervened to state explicitly that the Government was “planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs.” …

The ambiguity over the Government’s approach comes after it emerged last month that several ministers had expressed concerns about the plans, including due to the timing of Mr. Johnson’s announcement alongside the July 19th reopening, fears over a possible clash with equalities legislation, and the potential risk of legal action against venues. …

Michael Kill, Chief Executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “It seems ludicrous that the Government is falling into a continual cycle of announcing new rules and policies around mitigations through ministers, when it is clear that decisions have not yet been made. All of this on top of the fact that businesses are suffering from further uncertainty, resulting in a drop in trading levels and workforce confidence.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Perhaps the ‘confusion’ is just another way of “coercing and abusing young people”, says Hugh.

Get ‘Jabbed’ or “Miss Out on the Good Times”, Government Tells Young in Latest Ad Campaign

If you don’t get vaccinated against Covid, you won’t be able to enjoy your life, young people are told in the latest Government ad campaign which will be shown on billboards, on television and on social media platforms. In a nod to the introduction of vaccine passports at nightclubs and other “large venues” later this year, the ad tells young Brits: “Don’t miss out on going clubbing” by not getting ‘jabbed’.

“It’s easy to get yours done quickly,” the ad says, “so you don’t miss out on anything.” The Times has more.

Boris Johnson is said to have been “raging” about relatively low youth uptake and had to be talked out of requiring vaccination for students returning to university in the autumn.

He has said proof of vaccination will be required for nightclubs from September, with officials suggesting this will probably be widened to other mass events. Although there is scepticism about whether the policy will ever be introduced, given opposition from Tory backbenchers, ministers are seeking to drive home the message that jabs will be required for many leisure activities.

Past efforts appear to have failed. Yesterday 33,334 people were vaccinated and the seven-day average is down to 32,550 daily doses, a fall of 85% since June. …

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, warned that proof of vaccination was likely to be a feature of international travel “for evermore” as most countries would demand it as a condition of entry. “It’s important to understand that there are simply going to be things that you will not be able to do unless you’re double-vaccinated or have a medical reason not to be, including going abroad,” he told LBC. “So actually there are good reasons if you’re perhaps in your twenties and you feel like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t really affect me’. Well, it is going to because you won’t be able to leave the country.”

Vaccination rates in the young are starting to plateau, with 68% of those aged 18 to 24 and 71% of those aged 25 to 29 having had a first jab, compared with at least 95% in the over-50s. …

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, told young people to be vaccinated “to make sure you can return to creating those special moments”.

DJs and nightclubs have been recruited to the campaign, with the NHS holding a pop-up jab unit in the London nightclub Heaven. The Gateways music festival in Skipton, North Yorkshire, and Birmingham New Street station will also host walk-in centres this weekend. …

Campaign images include young people frolicking on a beach under the slogan “don’t miss out on going travelling”, a music festival with the warning “don’t miss out on the big events” and a packed dancefloor with the legend “don’t miss out on going clubbing”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: You can see more of the posters that make up the Government’s “Don’t Miss Out” campaign here.

The Case for Vaccine Passports Is Strong, Says Michael Gove

Michael Gove says there is a “strong case” for the introduction of vaccine passports “in appropriate locations”, such as at Premier League football matches, arguing that “everything… we can do in order to reduce [the risk of Covid transmission], we should”. He hopes that “some form of certification” will be introduced across all four nations in the U.K. “This,” he believes, “is the right way to go.”

In an interview with the BBC, Gove said that vaccine passports would “make sure we can have greater confidence that big events are not likely to be super-spreader events”. He cited the “spike” in Covid cases following the Euro 2020 games – which experts believe helped squash the latest peak – and said certification would help to “make sure that major activities… are safe” because those who are vaccinated are “less likely to be carriers of the virus”.

This is exactly the sort of “nonsense” that Hugh Osmond, Founder of Punch Taverns, criticised on Sunday when he highlighted that, under Government plans, someone who is fully vaccinated but has Covid will be allowed into a “large venue” but someone who is unvaccinated yet doesn’t have Covid will be barred.

By saying that certification checks will make venue owners more confident that their events are not likely to be “super-spreader events”, Gove also appears to have forgotten the results from 10 recent Government trial events. These identified just 28 positive Covid test results among 58,000 participants *without* the use of vaccine passports.

Despite all this, Gove insists that “the case for certification, overall, is a strong one”.

You can watch the BBC interview here.

Stop Press: Gove says that those who refuse the vaccine are “selfish”, according to Politics For All.