Lochaber business group boss fears vaccine passports may damage economy

Frazer Coupland, pictured, CEO of Lochaber Chamber of Commerce. NO-F37-Frazer-Coupland-Lochaber-Chamber-new-scaled.jpg
Frazer Coupland, CEO of Lochaber Chamber of Commerce. NO-F37-Frazer-Coupland-Lochaber-Chamber-serious-scaled.jpg

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Lochaber Chamber of Commerce chief executive Frazer Coupland is worried the Scottish Government’s announcement concerning Covid vaccination certificates possibly being required for entry to certain premises and events, could negatively impact local businesses.

Mr Coupland’s comments came after last week’s statement from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon which raised the possibility that vaccine certifications may be required for entry to nightclubs and many large events in Scotland from later this month.

The proposals will be put to MSPs in the Scottish Parliament today (Thursday) and if they agree, nightclubs and many large events will only be able to allow entry to people who can show they have had two Covid vaccines.

Mr Coupland said: ‘Throughout the pandemic, businesses here in Lochaber have done everything at their disposal to keep their clients, customers and employees safe.

‘Even today many businesses are going beyond what is legally required of them to help halt transmission and keep case numbers down.

‘Scotland’s economy is now finally beginning to recover, however, the fact remains that many businesses continue to operate in survival mode and the prospect of economic deterrents, such as vaccine certificates, could prove damaging to business and consumer confidence.’

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce network (SCC) has now written to Ms Sturgeon telling the First Minister that instead of rebuilding consumer confidence, frequent
announcements around potential return of restrictions or implementation of vaccine certificates, is proving damaging and costly to business and consumer confidence.

‘With many lifeline business support measures, such as furlough, coming to an end in only a matter of weeks, mounting business debt and growing supply chain issues, businesses are deeply concerned about increasing costs and administrative burdens exacerbating an already delicate situation,’ wrote Dr Liz Cameron, director and chief executive of the SCC, on behalf of all Scottish chambers.

However, local MSP Kate Forbes said given the rise in Covid cases, including those in the Fort William area, it is important the government considers additional action.

Ms Forbes told the Lochaber Times: ‘Customers want to have the confidence to return, and knowing that there are mitigations in place at events and in nightclubs – which are the only locations that will require a vaccine certificate – boosts confidence.

Local MSP Kate Forbes. NO-F-42-KATE-FORBES-SERIOUS-01.jpg
Local MSP Kate Forbes.

‘As NHS Highland figures show, uptake of the vaccine is lower amongst the younger age cohorts and from that perspective anything that helps to keep people safer is helpful.

‘The Health Secretary has said in the past he is personally sceptical about Covid passports, so it is clearly not a decision that has been taken lightly, but bearing in mind the number of cases we have been seeing, particularly around the Fort William area, the Scottish Government thinks it is important to consider further measures in a few locations, namely nightclubs and events.

‘We are going to be facing considerable pressures in the autumn and winter, and the Scottish Government will continue to do everything it possibly can to help protect the NHS, as well as our young people, our businesses and communities.’

And Ms Forbes’ comments come just a week after Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson issued a stark warning that the rise in Covid cases in the region was ‘almost unmanageable’.

Councillor Davidson said: ‘I am very concerned about the exponential rise in cases in Highland. We are seeing the impact of this particularly in our schools. Around half our schools have been affected since term began and we are experiencing some very large outbreaks.

Councillor Margaret Davidson, Leader of The Highland Council.

‘This is causing extreme pressures for all our staff and for the NHS. On top of this we have many large gatherings occurring and there are very few national restrictions to prevent or limit these super-spreader types of events.

‘We have always worked very closely with the Health Protection Team who do a sterling job and, together, our staff and the NHS team have managed local outbreaks very well.

‘However, since the change in self-isolation guidance, the level of cases has become almost unmanageable and there is considerable disruption to learning and to communities.

‘We need the Scottish Government to look at this again and provide some clarity over the situation we now find ourselves in.’

In the seven-day period up until Friday (September 3), there were 58 positive cases of Covid in the Fort William North neighbourhood, 61 in Fort William South, with 14 in Lochaber West and 16 in Lochaber east and North.