No Covid pass, no entry: Cardiff clubbers divided on new Welsh rules

There was an extra thing for the hundreds of young people waiting in the queue outside Pryzm nightclub in Cardiff to worry about.

As usual, they needed to show ID, undergo a search and make sure they still had their phone, keys and friends with them – but for the first time they also had to produce a Covid pass, showing they were fully vaccinated or had tested negative.

“It’s a bit of a pain, to be honest,” said 19-year-old Kelyse, a fashion marketing student who had a ticket for the club, but not a Covid pass and was trying to work out if it was worth the bother of going home, doing a lateral flow test and paying for another taxi to return. “Students like to be spontaneous,” she said. “This slows you down.”

Her friend, Elvia, 22, also a student, had a Covid pass but not a ticket. If they had to go home, she would probably lose her chance of getting in. “It’s another thing to remember – keys, phone, ticket, ID, Covid pass,” she said.

Paul, the manager of a tuition centre, and Siôn, another student, were in the queue clutching negative test strips.

Door staff patiently explained that this wouldn’t do. The pair, both 23, had to record and send off their results on their phones. It was a race against time because their tickets stipulated they needed to be in by 10.30pm. Messages confirming they were Covid-free came back just in time and they dashed inside.

The Welsh government has introduced a Covid pass system that means all over-18s have to show either they have been fully vaccinated or have tested negative to gain access to nightclubs and events such as large concerts and sporting events.

Ministers argued that Covid rates among young people – the sort who go to clubs – were too high. Most opposition politicians and the night-time industry hate the idea, arguing it takes away people’s liberties, but last week the law squeezed through the Welsh parliament by the narrowest of margins.

The system came into force on Monday, and the Quids In night at Pryzm – when more than 2,000 young people, mainly students, turn up for a night of dancing and partying – was the first big test.

Graeme da Silva, a regional director of Rekom UK, which owns Pryzm, said he was dismayed at the government’s decision. “It is putting more pressure on an already very fragile industry,” he said.

As he watched hold-ups while people tried to sort out their passes, he fretted about the bottom line – every minute spent in the queue equates to fewer Jägerbombs bought at the bar. But it’s more than that.

“This is hitting young people again, whose freedom has been so badly hit by Covid already,” he said. “We’re worried that it makes us look unwelcoming. Our business is all about welcoming people.”

Da Silva said if restrictions were needed, then they should not only be aimed at clubs. On Monday, some pubs in Cardiff were crowded with football fans watching the Wales match, and fast food restaurants were packed. Da Silva worried some people might not bother to get a pass and would instead head across the border to England, where there is no mandatory Covid or vaccination pass system.

The Welsh government accepts the pass is open to abuse as the lateral flow test is self-certified, and is intending to make it an offence to try to cheat the system.

As the night wore on – people danced until 3am – the door staff at Pryzm began to hear excuses: someone’s phone had run out of power, the app had crashed, the site was down. They remained steadfast: no pass, no entry.

But the vast majority did have their passes ready.

Adam, a 26-year-old DJ, said he backed the system if it helped keep the places where he worked open. “I think it will make people feel safer,” he said.

Chloe, a 19-year-old bar worker and Paige, 18, a beauty therapist, said they had not been vaccinated and did not intend to be. “I don’t want to turn into a zombie,” said Chloe.

But they wanted to go dancing, so both had taken lateral flow tests and had their Covid passes in order. “I think it’s a good idea, actually,’ said Paige. “It makes you feel a little safer, knowing everyone is negative. You can just go and have a good time and not worry.”

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