Northern Ireland news

Health Minister Robin Swann suggests shopping voucher would only be for the double-vaccinated

Fairhill Shopping Centre in Ballymena had attracted 3.9 million shoppers per year prior to the pandemic
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Health Minister Robin Swann has suggested he may support only allowing people who are double-vaccinated to cash in on a high street voucher scheme.

Mr Swann said he would be interested in bringing the idea to the Executive as an incentive to persuade more people to get jabbed.

A number of hospitals are struggling to cope with a surge in Covid-19 admissions. The Belfast Trust has said that 60% of people admitted to hospitals in its area have not been vaccinated.

The Department of Economy announced the high street voucher scheme last year to support traders hit by lockdown restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The scheme would see individuals issued with pre-paid cards of a value of up to £100, which could be used in shops, but not online.

Mr Swann was asked about linking the voucher scheme with the vaccination programme during an appearance on the BBC Nolan Show.

He said: “It is something I will have the discussion about and raise with the Executive committee certainly, in regards to an incentive for people to come forward and get vaccinated.

“But it would also have to be retrospective because I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone who has already been vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, the promoter behind the Belsonic and Custom House Square concerts in Belfast has said attendees will have to show proof of their Covid status.

Tom Jones, Kodaline, Nile Rodgers and CHIC and Scooter are some of the acts scheduled to appear at the Custom House Square gigs in August, while Liam Gallagher, Gerry Cinnamon and Dermot Kennedy are set to appear at Belsonic in September.

Promoter Joe Dougan said ticket-holders would have to prove their Covid status one of three ways – proof of having had both doses of the vaccine, proof of a negative Covid test 48 hours before arrival or proof of natural Covid antibodies.

Mr Dougan told the BBC: “It started with the events research programme in England, which was designed to speak to the viability and safety of large events.

“The findings of that programme was that this entry criteria was lower risk for attendees and acts and workers as well. This is something which is very much standard and we thought it was the responsible thing to do to have this at our concerts too.”

He added: “There has been a little bit of adverse reaction on social media, it is understandable because this is a new message to be putting out there.

“You can show proof of double vaccination, either through your card or the new passport system.

“But you can also provide a negative lateral flow test, or alternatively, if you have had coronavirus in the last six months and you have a positive PCR to show that, that shows you have natural immunity to the virus so that can also be used for entry.

“So, it is one of those three. If you don’t have a vaccination there are other options to gain admission.”

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