Northern Ireland news

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons calls for vaccine passports to be ditched

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has called for his Executive colleagues to to ditch the plan for a Covid certification system.

It was announced last night that the new scheme - requiring people to demonstrate evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result or proof of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months - will only be mandatory in licensed premises.

There will be no enforcement of the regulations until December 13.

The Department of Health will introduce the new regulations in draft form on Monday but they require Assembly approval to become operational.

The DUP was the only one of the five Stormont Executive parties to vote against the scheme proposed by Health Minister Robin Swann last week.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said he will not back it, warning it is "misleading to suggest passports can be a silver bullet", calling for "education and persuasion" instead.

In a letter to Mr Swann on Friday, seen by the PA news agency, Mr Lyons had expressed particular concern that small restaurants and cafes do have enough "staff or space" to carry out the checks.

The department confirmed the regulations will now only be mandatory in licensed premises, including places operating with `bring your own' alcohol.

It said this followed "feedback during engagement with the retail, hospitality, tourism and events sectors".

Mr Lyons had branded the proposals "ill thought through and in many cases unenforceable", saying it was "neither fair nor reasonable" for hospitality outlets to introduce the scheme on Monday with the regulations not yet published by Friday morning.

He warned the announcement has already had a "very real" economic impact, with hotels hit with £2 million of cancellations in the first two days of it and Christmas parties and other bookings being cancelled on a "worryingly regular basis".

In the letter, also copied to the Attorney General, Mr Lyons claimed the proposal "was brought forward in haste with neither a clear policy intention nor any solid evidence of effectiveness in halting the transmission of the virus".

The minister called on colleagues to show "political bravery" and change their position.

There were a further nine deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland recorded yesterday.

This weekend sees a series of special vaccination clinics across the north to target 12 to 17 year olds, as the PHA published a map revealing the wide geographical spread of cases from a single outbreak at teen disco at the Elk in Toombridge - now linked to more than 200 cases.

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