Covid passes compulsory for Welsh nightclubs from next week

Nightclub image from PA

Nightclub goers and those attending other events will have to show a Covid pass from next week after a dramatic showdown in the Senedd on Tuesday. 

All three opposition parties united to oppose the Welsh Government plans which could have blocked them altogether if the vote had been tied, throwing the plan into disarray. 

The Health Minister accused the opposition parties of "gross irresponsibility" in deciding to oppose the plan.

In the end the law change was passed by a single vote after one opposition member was unable to join remotely. 

The Presiding Officer rejected a complaint from another Conservative MS, saying that the member had been given every opportunity to join the vote including giving him her personal mobile phone number.

The Conservatives remain unimpressed. A spokesperson said, “A number of members across political groups experienced technical difficulties with the voting system this evening, which demonstrates why the hybrid Parliament in Wales must come to an end.

“We reaffirm our view that such significant votes should be held in person on the floor of the Senedd and Welsh Conservatives remain steadfastly opposed to the introduction of COVID passports.”

In response the Llywydd issued a statement giving further details about the situation.

“A Member was not present for the vote on proposals for Covid passes. I gave every opportunity for the Member to be present - including providing ICT support - but the Member was unable to be contacted.”

“For Members to vote in the Senedd, they must be present, either in the Chamber or on Zoom. It is a Member’s responsibility to give themselves sufficient time to secure their Zoom connection in time for voting, just as it is for any Member travelling to the Senedd to vote.”

Although Labour is by far the largest party in the Senedd, the 60 seats are evenly split with the opposition parties. 

In the event of a tied vote the Llywydd (Presiding Officer) Elin Jones is expected to back the status quo (i.e not introduce the scheme) or further debate. 

That's what very nearly happened in the Welsh parliament this evening when Plaid Cymru announced that it would vote against the plans because the Welsh Government had failed to answer serious questions about the implementation of the scheme. 

The Welsh Government will be breathing a sigh of relief that its proposal will become law and that the passes will become compulsory next week (October 11th). But the political implications of what has happened today could be far reaching. 

It's the first time since May's election that Mark Drakeford's government has faced the real prospect of defeat and on such a significant policy. 

The impact of tonight's vote could have far reaching implications for Mark Drakeford's government in the future.

It shows that being the largest party is not enough if the opposition parties are able to join forces. 

The solution to that problem was seen to lie in negotiations which had begun in September between Labour and Plaid Cymru to find areas where the two parties could cooperate. 

Tonight's vote raises a huge question mark over the continuation of those talks. 

When she spoke in the debate, Health Minister Eluned Morgan said, "Every day we hesitate, [Covid] rates go up, and every day we hesitate those rates will put more pressure on our NHS services.

"And let's be clear, not accepting this suggests that you're happy to do nothing. In the next few weeks. Nobody's suggesting that any facility should keep data. We fully understand that businesses want to remain open. And this measure will help us to do that throughout the winter. 

"And let me be clear, not supporting this measure today will be an act of gross irresponsibility when it comes to public health in Wales."

The Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George told MSs that, "there is a real risk here that the implementation of Covid passes could be a complete disaster.

"In Scotland we have seen the rollout being a disaster there. I don't use that word lightly, it has been a disaster there and the Labour Party Conference in Brighton was plagued with problems, we know that as well. The Welsh Government really should think again."

Those going to large events and nightclubs will now need a Covid pass in Wales or proof of a negative test result.

Plaid Cymru members had left their decision until today. Confirming that they would vote against the proposal, Rhun ap Iorwerth said he and colleagues were not opposed to the passes on principle but were concerned that the Welsh Government had not answered serious questions about the practical implications. 

He said, “Regrettably, the regulations proposed by Welsh Government today raise more questions than they provide answers. 

"There is insufficient evidence and little detail on how it will work in practice. In particular, the rapid test loophole which represents a fudge on the part of the Government, makes the system open to exploitation.

“We’ve asked many questions and haven’t been given the assurances we’ve sought. And it’s for that reason that we feel unable to support these regulations today.

 “We are not voting against because of issues of principle."

Jane Dodds, who is the only Liberal Democrat in the Welsh parliament, has been vocal in her opposition to the principle of passes or passports. She, too, listed what she said were serious practical problems. But she said her opposition was because "fundamentally Covid passports are an infringement on our freedoms and liberty."

The Welsh Government insisted the pass was not a "vaccine passport" because it would confirm either that a person had been vaccinated or had received a negative test result, enabling people who couldn't be vaccinated for various reasons to qualify. 

For England, the UK Government decided against introducing vaccine passports but the Prime Minister has said they remain an option if the situation worsens. 

Vaccine passports are being introduced in Scotland. 

Alert Level Zero: The Covid rules explained in Wales

Meeting indoors

From 6am on 7 August, will be no legal limits on the number of people who can meet, including in private homes, public places or at events.

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What businesses can reopen?

Any businesses currently still closed will be able to re-open. This includes nightclubs and other entertainment venues.

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What about self-isolating?

From midnight on 7 August, adults who are fully vaccinated and children and young people under the age of 18, will no longer need to isolate if they are identified as close conatcts of someone who has coronavirus.

This was announced by the First Minister last week.

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Social distancing

It's not yet clear whether or not the 'two-metre rule' under which businesses are obliged by law to ensure social distancing in the workplace will be dropped.

Welsh Government sources say that it is one of the final details being discussed.

In its announcement, the government says premises and workplaces will have "more flexibility" about which "reasonable measures they take" to minimise the risk of the virus.

"These should be tailored to their risk assessment and their specific circumstances".

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