Northern Ireland news

Vaccine passports by end of month

PROTECTING HOSPITAL WARDS: Covid passport proposals similar to the south’s are to be brought before the executive despite opposition from the DUP’s Sammy Wilson and Edwin Poots
Seanín Graham

MANDATORY Covid-19 vaccine passports could be in place by the end of the month for nightclubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland if proposals are green-lighted by the Executive today.

A leaked document has revealed Health Minister Robin Swann's blueprint, with November 29 earmarked for the introduction of the compulsory scheme, which is being implemented to stem rocketing infection rates and frontline pressures.

There will be a 14 day 'grace period' before it is enforced on December 13, according to the proposals.

After that time there will be fixed penalty notices for breaches. Between November 29 and December 12, "advice" will instead be given  "where non-compliance exists". 

Analysis: Executive stalling on key decisions to tackle healthcare crisis can no longer be tolerated

The Irish News can reveal the north's 'vaccine certs' will be required for:

- Nightclubs

- Hospitality

- Cinemas, theatres and conference halls

- Indoor events with 500 or more

- Outdoor events with 4000 or more

- Events where more than 10,000 people will be present

Ian Knox cartoon 17/11/21 

Proof of vaccination will required through an app launched earlier this month - which shows your vaccination status - but vaccine cards will also be accepted.

Negative lateral flow tests or proof of immunity where you have recovered from the virus can be used also.

On Monday, Mr Swann confirmed he will bring forward a proposal on the "phased" introduction of a vaccine cert scheme.

He raised concerns about high community transmission and escalating pressures on hospitals, saying "now was the time" to implement the measure.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson yesterday said he opposed the move saying he believed it would infringe on people's freedoms adding he hoped his party would block it.

Other high profile DUP figures including Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and former Economy Minister Paul Frew have heavily criticised any compulsory scheme.

Mr Frew took to Twitter to ask if there was "any evidence of positive health outcomes by using covid vaccine certification on people...given the horrendous impacts discrimination like this would bring?"

The party used a cross-party mechanism this time last year to block the extension of a four-week circuit breaker before Christmas.

But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson last night said he is "keeping an open mind" on proposals for mandatory vaccine passports.

"I want to hear what the (health) minister has to say, we want to see the evidence and then we'll come to a view on it," he said.

The Republic introduced a similar initiative in July, with many experts attributing it to driving up vaccination rates.

A quarter of under-30s remain unvaccinated in the north. The majority of the sickest Covid patients in the north's hospitals are not double jabbed.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill yesterday backed the rollout of mandatory vaccine certs - saying it will help prevent further "lockdown scenarios".

"I am open to everything and instructed officials to write up regulations. We have regulations that can be used to put the vaccine passports in place if we want to put them in place," the Sinn Féin northern leader said.

"I have always said we are up for it. If Robin Swann says we need it, I’ll back it. The problem is he hasn’t made a case for it until now."

She added certification will not solve the health service crisis but will be another option to improve vaccine uptake.

"Our objective with this initiative is to avoid us getting to any lockdown scenario," she added.

"I think we should do everything within our power to avoid getting into that again. That’s why it’s going to be a combination of these interventions that will make the difference. We’re asking people to make the best choice because none of us want to go backwards."

The SDLP and Alliance party have also been vocal in their support of mandatory certification passports but raised concerns why it hasn't been brought forward sooner.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, yesterday said the region's hospitals were at "breaking point".

"For me, this is long overdue and I think it really is a right and responsible thing," she told BBC Radio Ulster.

"And I hope that all of the Executive can examine the evidence and that we can agree this and get moving on it extremely quickly."

Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long questioned why passports were not made mandatory when social distancing rules were lifted in the hospitality industry at the end of October.

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