NICOLA Sturgeon has announced her controversial vaccine passport scheme will face a delay of almost three weeks before non-compliance enforcement will begin.

The scheme, to be launched on Friday, will see access to nightclubs and large indoor and outdoor events dependent on proving vaccination status, unless you are exempt.

But Ms Sturgeon has announced that enforcement action for businesses rolling out the system will be delayed until October 18 to “test, adapt and build confidence in the practical arrangements” of the vaccine passport scheme.

Despite the delay to businesses, the legal obligation for people to prove vaccination status or exemption to enter certain situation such as nightclubs will still begin from Friday.

Opposition MSPs have opposed the plans but the UK Government has included the scheme on its ‘plan B’ ahead of winter.

Speaking in Holyrood, the First Minister confirmed there will be “a grace period” until October 18, before enforcement action for non-compliance begins.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that she recognised “many businesses have concerns about certification” but stressed “the government remains of the view that a targeted certification schemes does have a part to play in driving vaccination rates up as high as possible”.

The First Minister confirmed the “change to our original plans for the scheme’s commencement”.

She said: “The new, staged approach we are proposing is designed to help businesses adapt to the requirement that the scheme will place upon them and give them a period in which they can operationalise and test their arrangements in practice.

“I can therefore confirm that after the legal obligation comes into force at 5am on Friday, we intend to allow a further period of slightly more than two weeks - until October 18 - before any business could face enforcement action for non-compliance.

“This period - effectively a grace period - will allow businesses to test, adapt and build confidence in the practical arrangements they will need to put in place to be compliant with the scheme.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “The government is persuaded that a Covid certification scheme will help us mitigate the risk the virus poses to us over the winter. That is why we intend to proceed with it.

“However, the pragmatic compromise that I have just outlined in relation to a staged introduction of the scheme demonstrates, I hope, that we are listening to business about the practical challenges they face - and that we are determined to work with them to overcome these.”

Business groups have welcomed the grace period but have repeated calls for the whole vaccine passport sysem to be cancelled.

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: “This is of course welcome news but it would have been better if we didn’t have Covid passports at all.

"We remain opposed to the scheme – it is a most unwelcome development for the licensed trade and as we have previously stated, it has happened without any meaningful consultation with the industry.

“However, they are being introduced so we implore the Scottish Government to ensure that the technology utilised is robust, reliable and easy to use for customers and the people tasked with policing the scheme.”

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses' Scotland policy chairman, added: “With vaccine passports set to become a reality, it is up to ministers to ensure the system they devise is workable.

"We can’t see a single local business facing unreliable technology or burdensome paperwork.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the announcement over a delay to enforcement for businesses "just adds to the confusion", and repeated his call for ministers to "scrap it altogether".

He said: “Warning after warning from businesses for weeks were ignored by this government, and only now does Nicola Sturgeon finally admit that this is a botched scheme.

“In a little over 48 hours’ time it will come into force, yet the government is still publishing vital new information and guidance about how to administer the scheme.

“And the goalposts have shifted – the First Minister has now delayed enforcement by over two weeks.

“It’s more of the same last-minute, rushed, chaotic planning we’ve seen time and time again from this SNP Government.”

Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, also called on the First Minister to re-think the vaccine passport policy.

He said: "Last week at the Covid-19 committee, Professor Jonathan Montgomery told of an event in Cornwall that chose to require vaccine passports for entry. This measure didn’t stop 5,000 attendees catching Covid. 

“The night time industry has taken the government to court, every opposition party has opposed the measure and the Scottish Human Rights Commission has expressed grave concerns that it has seen no evidential base for them. 

“The 18-day delay in enforcement is an admission that government and businesses are nowhere near ready and we have the evidence that shows they don’t even work."

But the First Minister insisted the delay to enforcement was "a very pragmatic compromise" after talks with businesses and stressed "the scheme is ready" to begin on Friday.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed that ahead of the vaccine passport launch on Friday, a Covid status app will be launched on Thursday.

She said: "Once the scheme starts, anyone over the age of 18, who wants to go to a large event - or to a late night venue - will be required to provide evidence that they are fully vaccinated, or evidence that they are exempt .

"To facilitate this, the NHS Covid status app will go live on Thursday. It will provide a digital record of a user’s vaccination status, including a QR code for each vaccination a person has received.

"It is already possible for any of us to request a paper copy of our vaccination record, or to download a PDF from the NHS Inform website."