Welsh Government facing legal challenge on NHS Covid Pass policy

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Welsh Government facing fresh legal challenge on NHS Covid Pass policy from Matt Connolly founder of Sticky Fingers Street Food in Cardiff

Related tags Wales Vaccine passport Legal challenge

A street food operator in Wales is to launch a legal challenge against the Welsh Government following the proposed expansion of the NHS Covid Pass system to more hospitality venues.

Matt Connolly, founder of Sticky Fingers Street Food in Cardiff, has hired law firm JMW Solicitors 'to take the Government to task' on the mooted policy, which was proposed by First Minister Mark Drakeford in a cabinet statement last week.

Speaking last week, the First Minister said: “To strengthen protective measures at alert level zero, we intend to extend the use of the Covid Pass, making it a requirement for entrance to cinemas, theatres and concert halls from 15 November, subject to a debate and vote in the Senedd [to take place tomorrow, 9 November].”

He also added: “If the public health situation does not improve, the next review of the Coronavirus regulations will consider a further expansion of the Covid Pass to include more hospitality settings.”

The comments have led to fears that Covid passes could become a requirement at pubs, bars and restaurants in Wales as soon as 19 November, when the next review of the Covid regulations is announced, leaving the industry with little time to prepare for what would be a major operational change.

When asked during an interview for a specific example of the measures being considered as part of the rollout of Covid passes to venues such as pubs and restaurants, Drakeford said: “The hospitality industry needs to use the next three weeks to prepare for the possibility that Covid passes might need to be introduced in that setting, so there’s a specific example of an action we could take in three weeks’ time.”

Connolly, who launched similar action in April this year​ following the Welsh Government's failure to set out an opening date for indoor hospitality, warns that the requirement for Covid passes across all hospitality settings will be a death sentence for hundreds of pubs, and has branded the plans 'completely impractical and wholly unworkable'.

“The idea of introducing Covid passes for pubs and restaurants is farcical - it would be completely unworkable and, the sad reality is, it will sink hundreds of businesses," he says.

“It would add significant running costs to an extremely fragile industry and would be impossible to enforce. We need clarity on the plans rather than vague comments around being prepared yet being left in the dark - the preparation alone would come at a huge cost in hiring more staff and introducing new procedures and processes, it isn’t a quick fix; it’s a massive undertaking.

“The hospitality industry should at the very least expect a full and fair consultation process on any plans to ensure that our concerns have been considered and the impact fully appreciated - I’m not convinced that the government understands the outcome that this will have on the sector and the fact that many businesses will be forced to close their doors; particularly pubs.

“As things stand, it does feel like the hospitality industry is being scapegoated yet again.”

JMW has sent a letter to the devolved government with a deadline of Friday 5 November to respond. It asks that the Welsh Government engage in an open consultation process with Connolly and others with the relevant experience, information and evidence to offer.

“A proposal to impose Covid Pass requirements on pubs, restaurants and bars would be excessive and a completely unjustified burden on an industry that is still reeling from the early stages of the pandemic," says Oliver Wright, partner at JMW Solicitors.

“The cost impact would be huge - for our client, it would mean an extra £10,080 a month to monitor a single entrance and would be even higher for venues with multiple entrances.”

Compulsory NHS Covid passes were introduced in Wales last month​.

Under current rules, all over-18s in Wales will need to have a NHS Covid Pass to enter nightclubs; indoor, non-seated events for more than 500 people, such as concerts or conventions; outdoor non-seated events for more than 4,000 people; and any setting or event with more than 10,000 people in attendance.

However, unlike the so-called 'vaccine passports' being introduced in Scotland, the NHS Covid Pass will allow adults to prove they have had a recent negative lateral flow test if they have not been fully vaccinated.

Ahead of tomorrow's debate and vote in the Senedd on the extension of Covid passes, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls is encouraging Welsh hospitality operators to contact their MS (Members of the Senedd) to voice their objection to the proposals.

Writing on Twitter this morning (8 November), she said: "Tomorrow there is a vote in the Senedd to extend the use of vaccine passports - this would be absolutely devastating for Welsh hospitality which would see a significant drop in footfall and revenues, impacting jobs and business viability absent additional support."

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