Scotland will end its COVID passport scheme on Monday and the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some indoor settings will be dropped from 21 March, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The decisions were announced as part of the Scottish government’s plans for managing the pandemic with a new “strategic framework”.
From 21 March, wearing face coverings in indoor settings like public transport will become guidance.
The announcement by the First Minister that the Covid passport scheme will end on Monday has been hailed as “common sense” by the SLTA (Scottish Licensed Trade Association).
While welcoming the news, however, the trade association expressed disappointment that the legal requirement to wear a face covering in indoor settings must continue until March 21. Similarly, the requirement for businesses to retain customer contact details must also continue for another month.
Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, commented: “Calling a halt to Covid passports is common sense and fantastic news for hospitality businesses, particularly the late-night sector where restrictions over the last two years have had such a severe impact.
“However, the legal requirement to wear a face covering in indoor hospitality and other settings for another month is not the news we wanted to hear today from the First Minister at a time when our sector needs more positivity and confidence – confidence that will encourage customers to start getting out and about again.
“We are also way behind the rest of the UK in the process and that throws out confusing messaging to visitors to Scotland from south of the Border – visitors who will support our hospitality businesses.”
Mr Wilkinson also expressed concern for the viability of some town and city centres over the Scottish Government’s advice to adopt “hybrid” working patterns. “We need to see more people in our town and city centres – if they’re working from home there are no office lunches or after-work drinks,” he said.
“It is encouraging for Scotland’s licensed hospitality venues to see more people returning to their offices and workplaces in recent months as this will breathe life back into our city and town centres – but let’s be more positive about the messaging.
“There is still a very, very long and uphill struggle ahead for many hospitality businesses with ongoing issues to overcome and an onus on the Scottish Government to support our industry which is key to the economy and jobs.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) said: “This announcement from the First Minister marks an important milestone in the road to recovery for pubs. Removing the remaining mitigations will give a real boost to the sector, however it is disappointing that it will be another month before we see the total removal of all these legal restrictions.
“As we move to living with covid as an endemic virus it is important the pub and brewing sector receive the necessary support and guidance to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery. The industry faces a perfect storm of rising inflation, increased costs, supply chain difficulties, labour shortages, with a backdrop of record levels of debt.
“We’re urging Governments in Holyrood and Westminster to support the sector’s recovery by continuing to reduce the punitive tax burden on our sector to ensure the sustainability of brewing and pubs, and help us regenerate our cities, towns and villages up and down the country.”
UKHospitality Scotland Executive Director, Leon Thompson said: “Hospitality businesses will be encouraged by the First Minister’s statement, with the move away from legal measures to a greater reliance on guidance. Ahead of today’s announcement UKHospitality Scotland called for the Scottish Government to demonstrate trust in the public and businesses. It is heartening that we are moving in that direction.
“The removal of compulsory vaccine certification to enter late-night venues from next week is extremely welcome. These businesses have been required to undertake checks since last October and have suffered major financial losses as a result. However, it is disappointing that the compulsory use of face coverings and test and protect in hospitality venues will remain in place until 21 March. Again, it would be better to let businesses and customers decide on the best way to manage risk sooner.
“The updated strategic framework sets out a plan for living with Covid but we are some way off from Scotland’s hospitality sector recovering from two years of restrictions and closures. With costs rising across the board and a VAT rise due this April – just as the wider cost of living crisis is set to heighten – businesses in the sector still need support. At the very least, we need the UK Government to commit to keeping VAT at 12.5% beyond April and the Scottish Government to extend business rate relief of 50% by at least a further three months.”