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Robin Swann calls for mandatory Covid-19 vaccination passport scheme

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann has called for the phased introduction of mandatory vaccine passports in Northern Ireland

Health Minister Robin Swann has called for the phased introduction of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination passports in the north.

Mr Swann told a press conference at the Department of Health in Belfast today that he would be seeking Executive support for the proposal on Wednesday.

"I think now is the time for the phased introduction of Covid certification in Northern Ireland.

"I think that's the conversation that we'll be having at the Executive on Wednesday in regards to the timing of the introduction of those regulations, but also the phasing in of what settings we should now consider as well.

"Our view as a Department of Health is that we should be using all the tools that are in our options to use."

Mr Swann said he would like to see the passports being rolled out when the regulations were in place - a process he said would take around three weeks.

After Robin Swann's announcement, Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said her party was prepared to take "whatever steps are necessary" to avoid another lockdown.

"The Executive will meet again on Wednesday with a focus on the huge pressures in the health service," she tweeted.

"We will continue to be guided by the health advice to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the public and avoid another lock down scenario."

DUP minister Edwin Poots made clear today that he remained opposed to such a legal move. That suggests the DUP could find itself isolated at Wednesday's meeting if it continues to oppose compulsory passports.

Stormont has been facing renewed calls to introduce vaccine passports after escalating pressures on the health system saw ambulances diverted away from Craigavon Area Hospital in Co Armagh today and yesterday.

It stopped receiving ambulances carrying patients with non-life-threatening conditions due to severe capacity issues in its emergency department.

At one point last night, there were 108 patients waiting in A&E with 32 needing hospital admission.

However, the hospital, which had 123 Covid-19 inpatients last night, only had three available beds.

The boss of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said it was "exceptionally close" to declaring a major incident alert.

The worsening situation within the north's under-pressure health system comes amid increasing Covid-19 transmission rates, particularly among young people.

Stormont Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the Executive will have a "dedicated discussion" around the situation at its meeting on Wednesday.

Responding to the incident in Craigavon, the British Medical Association called on the Stormont Executive to revisit the issue of vaccine passports as a priority.

Making certification a legal entry requirement for hospitality venues has been credited with driving up vaccination rates among young people in the Republic.

In the north, the Executive has recommended that nightclubs and other venues carry out Covid entry checks and an official app has been developed to enable people to show proof of their vaccine status.

However, the administration has stopped short of making it a legal requirement of entry.

The issue has divided the five-party coalition, with the SDLP and Alliance Party calling for legally enforceable Covid passports for nightlife venues.

Read more: Stormont told to revisit Covid certs amid warning of health system ‘on the edge'

 

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