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'Mask up or pay up' among measures in Executive Covid paper

Robin Swann talks to the media at Stormont as ministers voted in favour of mandatory Covid vaccine passports. He will put forward a range of further measures to executive colleagues this morning in a drive to reduce infections

Higher fines for failing to wear face masks and more Covid tests for schoolchildren are among measures being considered by ministers today to curb spiralling infections.

A leaked paper drawn up by Health Minister Robin Swann contains several proposals following the green-lighting of mandatory vaccine passports.

It includes a `scores on the doors'-style scheme to rate businesses' compliance with Covid guidelines.

The executive meets today as it emerged that five intensive care nurses quit their jobs at Northern Ireland's biggest health trust in a fortnight - with some seeking work in the private sector.

The Irish News has learned the departures took place at the Belfast health trust over the past month, and some other ICU nurses are considering their position due to "stress and burnout".

While Mr Swann advises that employees return to working from home to help stem infections and protect the health service, he states in his paper that other steps must be taken.

He warns that wearing of face coverings is below the 80 per cent level required to make it effective.

Only five fixed penality notices have been issued by the PSNI since regulations came into force in July.

"Enforcement needs to be strengthened and action taken against those who are non-compliant, otherwise the public will see compliance as unimportant and optional and we will not secure the benefit which the wearing of face coverings offers," Mr Swann states in the paper, seen by The Irish News.

Warnings are also made about "patchy" compliance by hospitality venues in collecting contact numbers of customers.

"Business owners have a responsibility to collect names and contact details of customers to facilitate contact tracing in the event of Covid cases associated with the premises being confirmed. However, since this is often not adhered to a focus on enforcement is required."

There remains opposition to the idea of Covid vaccine 'passports', with the DUP having voted against their introduction.

A protest rally outside Belfast City Hall on Saturday attracted criticism when some of the crowd carried placards displaying swastikas.

A large crowd gathered outside the gates of city hall with many waving anti-vaccine and anti-Covid certification banners.

There have been a further seven deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in the north.

Another 1,406 positive cases were also notified by the Department of Health on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said it was still possible to avoid a return to lockdown, amid a worrying surge in cases.

"It is possible to avoid the introduction of more restrictions, but we will have to watch the numbers very closely," he said.

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