- Ruth Stainer
Queues, Confusion & Chaos: The Trials and Tribulations of the Scottish COVID Vaccine Passport Scheme
News Editor Ruth Stainer writes on what the highly-contested Scottish COVID Vaccine Passport Scheme means for students, businesses and the public, its justification and its flaws.
Image description: A Moment of Hope was made in second lockdown, images and text were from the various daily newspapers we would read through, like many of us did. The imagery of the sanitary masks and social distanced queuing reminds us that the pandemic is not over yet and is still a concern in our daily lives. With the increase of Covid cases throughout the UK, Scotland has implemented the Covid Passport as a means of making venues and clubs more safe. However, how the newly developed apps are functioning are also raising concerns.
It has been well over a week since the contested Scottish COVID Vaccine Passport Scheme was first introduced, declaring that those over the age of 18 who wish to attend a club, events of more than 500 people, live outdoor unseated events of more than 4,000 people or any event of more than 10,000 people, are legally required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Yet, within such a short period, the scheme is already rife with widespread concern, complaint and anger from both the Scottish public and politicians alike.
Before formal enforcement began on October 18th, the scheme had already experienced a plethora of technical problems, with the Scottish COVID vaccine passport app dubbed by certain users as “the worst app I have ever tried to use” following repeated crashes due to the high volume of people trying to access their data. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologised publicly for the botched introduction of the country’s vaccine passport app, acknowledging the “extreme frustration” this had caused and that the app itself – developed by a Danish firm who were paid roughly £60,000 by the Scottish government – was not the problem. Rather, it was a combination of the high level of demand alongside an error in the NHS system that was to blame for the difficulties.
Beyond mere technical difficulties, the scheme has also been criticised as a cause of great ‘chaos and confusion’ for both users and the nightlife industry alike. The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) claimed that the launch has been ‘disastrous’ and that the politicisation of nightlife is an unacceptable and unworkable endeavour by the Scottish Government. Consequently, Gavin Stevenson, Vice-Chair of NTIA Scotland has proclaimed that “it is beyond belief that the Scottish government have continued with this flawed, discriminatory and unfair vaccine passport scheme against the advice of the affected sector and a majority of public health experts”.
Such widespread distaste surrounding the scheme comes only shortly after the NTIA lost a legal battle to delay the rollout on the grounds that the scheme is heavily unrepresentative of the “lowest level of intervention possible to achieve the public health imperative” and is, therefore ‘unlawful’. Likewise, the scheme has been dubbed as a “predictable disaster” by Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour Leader and “an utter shambles from day one” by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross. In response to such criticism, the First Minister has strongly contested that the scheme is a “reasonable thing to do”, not only to reduce transmission and help further drive up the already high vaccination rates but also to lessen the likelihood of the nightlife industry and large events having to face the risk of closure in the upcoming winter months.
Whilst the Scottish Government have outlined a definition of what constitutes a nightclub, there has still been a prominent degree of confusion regarding exactly which venues are affected, the logistics of the scheme and who is eligible for the exclusion, subsequently causing unprecedented queuing and conflict outside of venues. Consequently, Emma McClarkin, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, has raised serious issues with such a definition, claiming that it goes “far beyond what any reasonable person would consider [being] a nightclub”, and, therefore, that many pubs and bars have been unjustifiably incorporated.
Possessing similarities to the digital COVID certificate being used across Europe, the scheme represents a long trajectory of Scottish differences in approach towards the pandemic’s handling. Conversely to Scotland, England has opted out of a vaccine passport scheme for the foreseeable future (though it has not been ruled out as a ‘Plan B’ option in the event of a surge in winter rates and hospitalisations).
Although discussions of the scheme continue to be dominated by questions of legitimacy, workability and, in some cases, morality, the threat of COVID-19 for Scotland still remains a matter of concern, with 139 fatalities from COVID recorded in the week of October 11-17, an increase of eight on the previous week. And, whilst the number of new daily cases has reduced by more than 20% in the past week, a stark 60% lower than at the peak of the latest wave over a month ago, Ms Sturgeon has stressed the importance of not becoming complacent in neither approach nor policy. Critically, she highlights the danger the winter months will inevitably play in “creating the conditions for the virus to circulate” and, thus, are likely to put further pressure on the NHS. Such challenging circumstances do, she maintains, justify the mandatory vaccination scheme and any potential difficulties that may arise alongside it.