BUSINESS leaders have warned Nicola Sturgeon she risks causing “severe economic harm” if she expands the Covid passport scheme for Scotland’s hospitality sector.

In a letter to the First Minister, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said it remained “unconvinced that the public health benefits of an extension to the scheme outweigh the negatives for  individuals, businesses and the economy”.

Ms Sturgeon is due to update MSPs today on a potential expansion of the double-jabbed passport scheme which has covered nightclubs and large venues since October. 

If implemented, the change could come into effect from December 6, and include a variety of smaller venues such as bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres.

As well as proof of vaccination, ministers are considering if customers should be able to show evidence of a recent negative test as an alternative to being double-jagged - or in addition to it.

Business leaders have warned it could wreck Christmas party bookings, citing the Government’s own research suggesting almost a third of 18 to 29-year-olds could be denied entry.

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “This is a critical time for Scotland’s businesses as we enter the Golden Quarter over the festive period where many businesses make most of their earnings for the year, and our members remain concerned about the impact that an expansion of Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine certification will have on them financially.

“The  suggestions of a return to table service in hospitality, caps on venue capacity and the reintroduction of curfews would in reality mean a return to an economic, if not social, lockdown which would cause severe economic harm to Scotland’s businesses at a critical point in their recovery.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton called for a full parliamentary vote before any expansion of restrictions.

He said the SNP and Greens had not provided any “factual evidence” to show the current Covid ID scheme was keeping Scotland safer, adding: “No wonder it has been attacked by everyone from health experts to civil liberties groups. The government should instead focus on the measures that we know can help us defeat the virus: testing, tracing and vaccinating.”

Urging the Government to ditch the “unworkable” system, he said: “This expensive and unworkable scheme is a very deliberate diversion from the real crisis in our NHS. Ministers are just trying to look busy. We know transmission continues even among people who have received two vaccine doses. All this system does is give people false confidence that they will not pick up Covid-19 and encourages risk taking.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said there was “an awful lot of concern and scepticism” about the Government’s evidence-base for an extension of vaccine passports, especially at such a busy and critical time of the year for business. 

He said: “Everything we've been told in parliament over the last fortnight has been building up to a significant announcement on vaccine passports. I think that's a big concern for businesses and the business community right now.”

Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney last week said the Government would continue to consult with the hospitality industry.

“We want businesses to remain open throughout the Christmas period so it is sensible to consider options available to expand Covid certification.”