Covid: Vaccine passport spot checks could be used at football matches, SNP Swinney suggests

Heart of Midlothian fans during the cinch Premiership match at Tynecastle.
Heart of Midlothian fans during the cinch Premiership match at Tynecastle.

Deputy First Minister says the Government was considering checks on a selection of fans when the vaccine passport scheme comes into force

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Fans going to football matches may only be subject to vaccine passport spot checks rather than everyone having to prove their vaccination status, John Swinney has said.

The Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary said the Government was considering checks on a selection of fans when the vaccine passport scheme comes into force.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney discusses vaccine passports.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney discusses vaccine passports.

Mr Swinney told Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee that talks with football authorities were ongoing but he expected a “proportionate approach” when checking vaccine certification at large events.

It followed a plea from SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster for a “light-touch approach of spot checking” rather than all fans having to show their vaccine passport to gain entry to grounds.

Under the Scottish Government’s plans, proof of being double vaccinated is needed at indoor seated events of 500 people or more, unseated outdoor live events with more than 4,000, and “any event, of any nature, which has more than 10,000 people in attendance”.

Mr Doncaster, a member of Scottish football’s Covid-19 joint response group, estimated that the additional stewarding required to check the vaccines will cost clubs £5,000 per match.

Celtic fans in the stands hold up scarves in support of Kyogo Furuhashi ahead of the UEFA Europa League Play-off, first leg match at Celtic Park.
Celtic fans in the stands hold up scarves in support of Kyogo Furuhashi ahead of the UEFA Europa League Play-off, first leg match at Celtic Park.

He said scanning everyone’s QR codes would be a “reliance on technology which will be untried and untested – certainly at its introduction on October 1”.

Giving evidence to the committee, Mr Doncaster added: “Given the huge variation in IT infrastructure across stadia, we believe very strongly that a visual check is the way forward here so that stewards can visually check what passports are presented to them rather than any insistence on a particular type of technological check.”

In the following evidence session, Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser raised concerns about how the vaccine passport system would work at football grounds and “whether spot checks will be deemed sufficient”.

Mr Fraser said: “One of the issues is the practicality of stewarding football grounds.

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood raised concerns about the vaccine passport system.
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood raised concerns about the vaccine passport system.

“Everybody knows there are issues in the labour market at the moment – trying to recruit the levels of stewards that will be required to make this system credible is a real challenge for clubs, notwithstanding the cost implications.”

Mr Swinney replied: “We are aware of the labour market challenges, they are visible to all of us, and the challenges about the availability of stewards are well documented, so I don’t in any way, shape or form dispute that point – I accept that.

“Hence the rationale within the Government’s paper that we published last week, where we indicated that there was a necessity for organisers to take ‘reasonable measures’, and there was likely to be a proportionate approach in different settings between a crowd of 200 versus a crowd of 60,000.

St Johnstone fans watch the play during the UEFA Europa Conference League Play-offs, second leg match at McDiarmid Park.
St Johnstone fans watch the play during the UEFA Europa Conference League Play-offs, second leg match at McDiarmid Park.

“So we envisage that there will have to be differential approaches.”

Reiterating that the measures could help increase vaccination numbers, he continued: “The more we can do – even though it may not be a check on absolute everybody that attends a football game – the more we can do to make these events safer, and less likely to be the place in which the virus is transmitted, the more we are contributing to the suppression of the virus.”

Mr Swinney avoided answering a question about whether the planned October 1 start date could be pushed back to give businesses more time to prepare, but insisted the system being developed was “very, very strong”.

He added: “It’s absolutely vital that the scheme that we put in place is able to work effectively.”