Northern Ireland news

North's hospitality chiefs oppose moves to introduce vaccine certs to gain entry to pubs and restaurant

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster is strongly opposed to the introduction of Covid vaccine certs for indoor dining
Seanín Graham

HOSPITALITY businesses have opposed any plans to introduce Covid vaccine certificates for entry into restaurants and pubs in Northern Ireland, branding the move "blackmail".

The Irish News revealed yesterday that Stormont ministers are exploring the option and currently awaiting advice from officials in a cross-departmental 'Covid taskforce' before making a decision.

In the Republic, a similar scheme was rolled out last weekend with customers required to show proof at the door of hospitality premises they have been double jabbed or recovered from the virus.

Mounting Covid hospital admissions are putting a severe strain on the health service - with 38 positive patients in ICU today - at a time when vaccine uptake rates have stalled among young people.

Two-thirds of hospitalised cases are not vaccinated.

But Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said the sector should not be singled out and urged ministers to talk to the industry and consider a wider approach.

He also questioned making vaccines mandatory to enter hospitality venues, saying: "You cannot blackmail people into doing stuff."

"There is talk about hospitality being singled out for vaccine passports - we're saying 'at least talk to us'," he told the PA news agency.

"There is a difference between an incentive and removing civil liberties, but there is also the wider question of why just hospitality, why not buses, trains, universities, the gym?"

Mr Neill warned that the idea would be complex to implement, asking where legal liability would rest, and querying the impact on businesses where some staff may not be vaccinated.

Earlier this week, the north's Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Ian Young said he believed the Republic's stricter rule for indoor dining had "incentivised" people to get jabbed.

The Republic, which was beset with vaccine supply issues due to its reliance on the EU for doses, has overtaken Northern Ireland with 78 per cent of its population fully vaccinated.

Just over 72 per cent of the north's adults have received both jabs.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in the north, said vaccine passports for hospitality are "inevitable".

"The problem is we have seen over the last couple of weeks hundreds of patients in hospital who mostly aren't vaccinated occupying hospital beds, and we're overwhelming our intensive care units, we're having to take staff away from theatres to look after these patients, and as a result patients with cancer and kidney transplants aren't being done," he said.

"I don't think that's defensible, I think we have to take action to fix this situation.

"We have already seen this (vaccine passports) for foreign travel, I think that we will (see it for hospitality), I don't think we have an alternative."

Dr Black urged more young people to have a vaccine, adding they have a "responsibility to look after themselves, to look after friends and family, colleagues and their health service".

"They are failing to do that at the minute," he said.

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