Northern Ireland news

Stormont ministers criticise relaxation of restrictions for nightclubs re-opening

Nightclubs will re-open in Northern Ireland at the end of the month

TWO Stormont ministers have expressed concerns about the relaxation of Covid restrictions in nightclubs ahead of their re-opening at the end of the month.

Justice Minister Naomi Long has warned of the impact of face masks no longer being compulsory for dancers while Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon criticised the failure to introduce mandatory vaccine passports to gain entry to premises.

Ms Long said the messaging on the issue could have "potential unintended consequences".

"Given the extent of Covid transmission in the community, the risk posed by new variants and the high risk nature of nightclub settings, I fear that further relaxation in the wearing of face coverings, particularly when dancing, may lead to a significant increase in transmission," she said in a letter seen by the BBC.

Ms Mallon said that if the executive was to go ahead and introduce vaccine passports, it could take five to six weeks to implement it due to legislative requirements.

She warned this would be "too little, too late".

"We don't have five to six weeks, we need to be implementing it quickly so that when we need to, we can move on this," she said.

SDLP party leader Colum Eastwood also called on the first and deputy first ministers to urgently roll out the mandatory scheme, similar to the Republic where it has been in place since July.

Mr Eastwood said the decision to re-open nightclubs without patrons having to show proof of vaccination was "grossly irresponsible" and "will lead to increased transmission of Covid-19".

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