Northern Ireland news

Reopening nightclubs branded ‘complete madness' by BMA

“If you open up the nightclubs to young people who aren’t vaccinated, they will increase the infection rate, that will increase admissions to hospital, that will increase mortality,” Dr Tom Black said
David Young, PA

A Stormont decision to lift coronavirus rules despite mounting pressures on the health service has been branded “complete madness” by medics.

Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland council, said the relaxations planned for the end of the month would ultimately lead to more Covid-19 deaths.

He criticised the move as “stupidity” as he warned the health system in the north was facing its “worst crisis ever” this winter as it dealt with the “triple whammy” of Covid, winter pressures and spiralling waiting lists.

Dr Black's comments came amid signs of growing divisions within the powersharing administration over the plans, with Alliance Party and SDLP ministers insisting the relaxations should only proceed if accompanied by mandatory vaccine passports.

On October 31, nightclubs are due to reopen in Northern Ireland and social distancing rules that currently limit capacity in bars and restaurants will move from regulation to guidance.

People will also be able to move freely around hospitality premises from that date, including being able to stand at the bar for a drink.

Indoor dancing will also resume across the hospitality sector at the end of the month.

Read more: Leading virologist urges caution as ministers agreed nightclubs will reopen on October 31

Those decisions were taken at the start of the October and at an Executive meeting yesterday ministers agreed to press ahead with the moves.

They also confirmed that night clubbers would not have to wear masks when dancing or in settings that involved eating or drinking.

Dr Black told BBC Radio Ulster: “If you open up the nightclubs to young people who aren’t vaccinated, they will increase the infection rate, that will increase admissions to hospital, that will increase mortality.”

He said the planned relaxations were “complete madness and stupidity”.

“We’ve eased the restrictions for that group of people in our community who have failed to become vaccinated,” he added.

“We have 25% of the 18 to 29 group non-vaccinated, 21% of the 30 to 39s, and what do we do with them? We say ‘you know what, you can go out, you can eat, you can drink, you can dance, forget about masks, forget about social distancing’.

“’You’re the group that are at highest risk, please go out and spread the infection, and then take it home to your granny’.

“That’s the medical professionals’ response to this.”

Dr Black added: “We’re being overwhelmed at the moment. This is not the time to ease restrictions, this is the time to turn to those people who aren’t vaccinated and say ‘you’re letting us down, you’re betraying your friends, your relatives and your granny, you’re out there, mixing, spreading the infection’.

“It’s seeping through into the older people and people are landing into hospital and dying because our young folk won’t get vaccinated – that’s not good enough.”

The BMA NI council chair continued: “We’re entering into the worst crisis ever – this winter is going to be much worse than last winter.

“Why? Because the triple whammy of Covid, the winter pressures, the waiting lists. And we have to tighten our belt, do the right thing and not indulge in wishful thinking.”

Read more: Leading virologist urges caution as ministers agreed nightclubs will reopen on October 31

It has emerged that Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long wrote to other ministers ahead of yesterday's Executive meeting expressing concern at the proposed relaxation of rules around wearing face masks in hospitality settings.

PA Media understands she warned that such a move could lead to a significant increase in transmission.

The minister also highlighted that relaxing rules on face coverings in the hospitality sector could influence public attitudes to the hygiene measure and inadvertently lead to a drop in compliance in other sectors where face masks remain compulsory.

Ms Long urged ministers to consider making Covid vaccine passports mandatory in high-risk environments such as nightclubs.

As it stands, the Executive has urged venues to voluntarily introduce certification systems whereby patrons wishing to gain entry would have to show vaccination status, a negative lateral flow test result or proof of a positive infection within the last six months.

Ms Long warned ministers that there was evidence that some customers were showing reluctance to provide such evidence when it was not a legal requirement.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has also been calling on Executive colleagues to introduce mandatory vaccine passports.

Her party leader, Colum Eastwood, said today: "The decision to open and reduce restrictions in nightclubs on Halloween night without introducing a mandatory vaccine certification programme is grossly irresponsible.

"People are still being hospitalised by this virus, every day people are getting sick and some are dying. As we enter a difficult winter period, this is a moment for vigilance not to throw open the doors and throw off the face coverings."

In response to Dr Black's comments, a spokeswoman for The Executive Office said: "All decisions on measures to manage the pandemic over the winter months are informed by the public health situation and in line with the medical and scientific advice.

"The Executive continues to take its decisions on a careful and cautious basis, taking into account health, economic and societal factors."

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