Transport Secretary confirms Scotland is working with UK Government to develop a Covid passport using NHS data – but it’s lagging behind, says Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart

Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart supports a Covid passport system to rescue the region’s tourism industry

The Scottish Government is engaging with the UK government on a four-nations approach to develop a Covid passport.

Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Connectivity and Infrastructure, told this morning’s Health Committee in Holyrood: “We are already looking to develop our own thinking around how it would operate through the data system we have within NHS Scotland, but we also have to be mindful of the ethical issues associated with this”.

It followed hard questions from Highlands & Islands MSP David Stewart.

The Labour MSP strongly supports a Covid passport system to rescue the international tourism industry.

He has been pressurising the Scottish Government for months to step up the pace of its work on the issue.

Mr Matheson insisted his officials were working swiftly and he pointed out that they were also engaging with the World Health Organisation “which is developing a set of data-specific regulations that could be applied universally”.

However, he  believed it was too soon for the Scottish Government to allocate specific staffing or budget lines to this work.

Mr Stewart said he was “worried” Scotland was falling behind.

He said: “My real worry is the train is leaving the station and we aren’t on it.

“I have been watching closely as many other countries, including Greece, are announcing -well ahead of the UK – their plans to bring in a Covid passport system for the recovery of their travel industries.”

Mr Matheson said this seemed premature.

He said: “I think it’s far too early for ministers in Greece to say that they will be looking to welcome people from the UK this summer if they have a vaccine certificate.

“We don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be at national level. We don’t know what the situation will be in Greece and we don’t know where we will be with the vaccination programme.”

He said the practical operation, in his view, required some international agreement to ensure it operates effectively and adheres to  necessary data standards.

He added: “I think there is still a considerable amount of work to be done in taking forward the whole concept.”

Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart said: “Other countries are moving ahead with this, industry is doing it without government. I was keen to find out from the Cabinet Secretary if something was happening at Scottish Government level beyond just a generalised discussion with the UK Government.

“What we have essentially heard today is no specific funding or staffing has yet been allocated from the Scottish Government’s budget because they believe it is too soon. What are they waiting for?

“As someone who represents the Highlands & Islands tourism is of course our most important asset and product. I am looking at the future where we will have tourists coming safely to our area and Scots are travelling internationally again and I do not think the Scottish Government is giving this the urgency and attention that this issue needs.”