BUSINESS leaders have welcomed the end of Covid vaccine passports in Scotland and a timetable to ease other pandemic restrictions north of the border.

Nicola Sturgeon said the certification scheme requiring certain venues and events to check the vaccine or test status of customers will end next Monday, February 28. 

However the First Minister said the app supporting the scheme would still work,  letting businesses continue with passports “on a voluntary basis to reassure customers”.

Ms Sturgeon also said that, provided the virus did not get worse, the duty to wear face coverings in certain indoor settings and on public transport would end next month.

From March 21, the legal requirement to do so will be converted to guidance only.

But the First Minister told MSPs that the Scottish Government would continue to recommend wearing face coverings in shops, indoor public places, and public transport.

The measures were part of a Covid framework setting out how the Scottish Government plans to ease the last remaining Covid restrictions in the coming months.

READ MORE: Covid Scotland - Vaccine passports scrapped and changes to face mask rules

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said: “After almost two years, today’s announcement marks a significant step towards normality returning. 

 “Firms want the removal of remaining restrictions to be a springboard for confidence, providing the certainty they need to invest and generating a much-needed boost to the Scottish economy. But they are also aware that the virus hasn’t disappeared, so will continue to protect their staff and customers, as they have from the outset.

“Living confidently with the virus means prioritising infrastructure over interventions. Firms will welcome the continued emphasis on our world-leading vaccine and anti-viral programmes as the key pillars in our efforts to keep people safe.”

Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the measures were a “monumental moment” for business.

She said: “The removal of mandatory vaccine certification from February 28 followed by the expected removal of all other remaining legal measures on  March 21 will give Scotland’s economy a significant boost, drive up confidence and allow businesses to finally begin to trade again unencumbered.

“Businesses have invested millions throughout the course of the pandemic to keep their customers and employees safe. 

“It’s therefore positive to see the Scottish Government put their trust back in businesses to manage the health and safety of workplace environments as Scotland adjusts to living and working alongside the virus.

“The removal of vaccine certification requirements on businesses is welcome news for both businesses and consumers.

“We called for the Scottish Government to remove vaccine certification at the earliest opportunity, and this is a significant boost for those sectors subject to certification schemes.  

“Vaccine certification acted as an economic deterrent, placing additional costs directly on to businesses, with no financial support being made available by government to support implementation.”

Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland welcomed the timetable, but said there was still hard work ahead to get local economies back on their feet. 

He said: “The lifting of the remaining covid rules will be a weight off the shoulders of Scotland’s small business community.

“While the First Minister outlined her government’s continued caution, she also spelled out a desire to return to a more normal way of life. That ambition to get back to business is something that Scotland’s local and independent firms share.

 “However, the hard work to get local economies moving needs to start now. Ministers need to inject confidence as well as roll-out vaccines.

“With a new economic strategy in the pipeline, we’d urge Ministers to ensure that the local firms and self-employed people that gave up so much are at the centre of their plans.

“The document published today also outlines scenarios where covid rules could return. We’d ask decision-makers to recognise the damage this crisis has already done to Scotland’s business community before re-imposing tough restrictions.”

Scottish Hospitality Group spokesperson Stephen Montgomery said today was a “significant step in the right direction”, with the “removal of unnecessary burdens on our sector”.

He said: “In particular, we welcome the end to the Covid passports scheme and test and protect, which places a heavy bureaucratic burden on hospitality venues with little beneficial effect to protecting our customer's health. 

“There are a number of details which will require further thought and consultation, and we would have liked to see a clearer and faster transition to the end of restrictions and mandatory use of masks, as keeping these for a further month does nothing for rebuilding consumer confidence. 

“As the owners of Scotland's best-loved pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels, we will continue to do all that we can to keep our customers safe and we know that our loyal customers will welcome this step towards normality.

“Our focus now turns to restoring public confidence in Scotland's much-loved hospitality venues and focusing entirely on supporting our sector to recover. We look forward to continuing to work constructively with the Scottish Government to help us to do so."

The Scottish Beer & Pub Association said the First Minister’s statement was “an important milestone in the road to recovery for pubs”, but progress was still too slow. 

A spokesperson said: “Removing the remaining mitigations will give a real boost to the sector, however it is disappointing that it will be another month before we see the total removal of all these legal restrictions.

“As we move to living with covid as an endemic virus it is important the pub and brewing sector receive the necessary support and guidance to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery. The industry faces a perfect storm of rising inflation, increased costs, supply chain difficulties, labour shortages, with a backdrop of record levels of debt.

 “We’re urging Governments in Holyrood and Westminster to support the sector’s recovery by continuing to reduce the punitive tax burden on our sector to ensure the sustainability of brewing and pubs, and help us regenerate our cities, towns and villages up and down the country.”