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Leading doctor warns Stormont to 'unite on messaging' amid wrangling over vaccine passports

Health Minister Robin Swann. Picture by Peter Morrison/PA Wire.
Seanín Graham

STORMONT politicians need to unite on messaging about vaccine passports if restrictions are to lifted, a leading doctor warned last night.

As the row over the mandatory proof of jabs for indoor venues ramped up yesterday, Dr Alan Stout said rising hospital numbers - particularly among unvaccinated patients - meant that mitigations were needed if "everything is to open up."

Yesterday Health Minister Robin Swann said a delay by the executive in agreeing a Covid-19 vaccine certification policy has "significantly limited" the options for easing restrictions.

He said he first raised the issue "as far back" as April.

Analysis: Mixed messaging and lack of political unity at Stormont over Covid needs to end to improve public confidence 

Ian Knox cartoon 29/9/21 

In a letter to the first and deputy first ministers the health minister said he was frustrated by the lack of progress.

Dr Stout, who heads up the British Medical Association (BMA) GP committee, said: "The vaccine passport is such a mitigation. You could use nightclubs as a perfect example. If we had the passports I suspect nightclubs would be open.

"The alternative to not having them is to keep things closed."

Vaccine certificates to gain entry to indoor pubs and restaurants were rolled out in the Republic in late July.

Vaccination uptakes have soared in the south, particularly among young people while a quarter of the under-30s are not jabbed in the north.

In Waterford, 99.7 per cent of over-18s are now fully vaccinated.

The Republic has also been ranked the best country in how it has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Bloomberg Covid resilience ranking.

It said the Republic - which has the highest uptake rates of vaccines in the EU - has been steadily climbing from January after it faced its worst ever outbreak of Covid-19.

The state was praised for its turnaround and rolling out a very successful vaccine programme.

On Monday, Stormont ministers agreed a plan to drop the one metre social distancing requirement across a range of venues, but decided that plans to require vaccination passports for entry to the indoor seated venues would be advisory only.

Mr Swann said he did not back the proposal because the scheme was "neither agreed nor ready".

Dr Stout, added: "I have a fair amount of sympathy with the difficulty the executive are in at the moment in that a lot of the support they had coming from the Treasury has now stopped - they don't have the ability to continue certain support measures.

"But having said that they do have the ability to introduce various mitigations such as vaccine passports that will help circumvent difficulties such as the end of furlough.

"Vaccine passports and other measures such as mask wearing are something we don't need support from London on. A consistent and firm approach in messaging on these will have a significant effect on infection rates, hospital admisssions and deaths.

"These are exactly the things our politicians need to be consistent on."

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