Nicola Sturgeon is considering extending vaccine passports to Scotland’s cinemas, theatres and pubs. ‘We are also considering whether an expansion of the scheme to cover more settings would be justified and prudent given the current state of the pandemic,’ the First Minister said yesterday: she’ll decide next Tuesday. As she mulls, what data will she have to go on?
Her deputy, John Swinney, conceded earlier this month that the government doesn’t have much in the way of evidence: the data is ‘impossible to segment,’ he says. Yet he told The Spectator at an event this morning that he still believed vaccine passports had a ‘role to play’ — pointing to an increased uptake of the vaccine in under-thirties. But this increase was in those receiving their second jab. The number of jabbed Scottish adults under 30 was 76.8 last month to just 78.6 per cent now: this is not statistically significant. And nothing like the jump seen after vaccine passports were introduced in France (where uptake among under-thirties rose from 50 per cent to 90 per cent).
With vaccination at such high levels, will passports have any impact? So far there is no sign of any effect in Scotland. At least not on health: the use of vaccine passports has certainly hit Scottish society with some employers already saying the unjabbed need not apply to certain jobs. Audit Scotland figures show that the poor, and ethnic minorities, are far more likely to be unjabbed — due to various complicated reasons: vaccine passports will worsen already-deep inequalities. So Scots have had the loss of liberty without any discernible health benefits.
A recent survey of hospitality businesses found 76 per cent would not survive the winter if passports were widened. If passports are extended to pubs and other venues, their effect on refuseniks may well drive them to drink at home, where it’s much harder to ensure ventilation and other measures. Risky drinking could rise. When Scottish pubs were shut by lockdowns last year, alcohol deaths rose 32 per cent above their five-year average.
Scottish hospitality has seen a host of restrictions that have not been imposed south of the border. Pubs had been told to play ‘no background music or volume from TVs’ so football matches were shown without commentary (the idea is to stop drinkers leaning in to hear each other). The effect of all this? Scotland and England’s infection rates have fluctuated — with nothing other than school term dates influencing which country has more Covid. As it stands Scotland’s positivity rate is 9.4 per cent and England’s is 9.
The Scottish government prides itself on ‘evidenced-based policy’. But when it comes to vaccine passports, it seems to be more faith-based.