Northern Ireland news

Panic and fear gripping hospitality industry as Christmas bookings 'wiped out' and Covid vaccine passports come into law

Covid vaccine passports will be legally enforced today in Northern Ireland. They were introuduced in the Republic in July
Seanín Graham

PANIC and "absolute fear" are gripping the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland as Christmas bookings collapse and Covid vaccine passports come into force, an industry representative has warned.

From today, the public will be required to show proof of their Covid status to gain entry to nightclubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and other indoor/outdoors events, with fines for those premises which breach the law.

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster has been among the most outspoken critics of the scheme - which was rolled out in the Republic in July - but said they are now "resolved" to its roll out.

More than 10,000 unvaccinated people came forward to get their first jab within a week of Stormont leaders voting for vaccine passes last month.

With the more transmissible Omicron variant expected to become dominant by January, there are mounting concerns about its impact on the NHS and fresh pleas by health chiefs for the public to get jabbed.

Mr Neill insisted he was pro-vaccination but "hadn't seen the evidence" on passports reducing infection rates.

He expressed further concerns about the cancellation of Christmas parties in hotels and other venues as well a big drop in walk-ins - and hit out at the lack of financial support from government on workers dependent on festive trade.

"We have to accept the fact the vaccine passport is here but it doesn't help that customers are finding it difficult to download the certs - or that the rules changed as late as last Friday," he said.

"However, we have to make it work and thankfully vaccine cards and lateral flow tests will still be accepted to get into places. Stormont must recognise that not everyone is IT savvy, and that goes for customers as well as staff.

"The other issue we have is that Christmas bookings have been wiped out with an avalanche of party bookings cancelled. Footfall has also dropped. In the Republic, weekly payments are in back in place for those who have lost their jobs in hospitality but we have no financial support at all.

"Most hospitality managers are now worried about what staff they bring in and how much stock they order as well as being prepared for the vaccine passes.

"There is a panic and absolute fear across the industry...We're hearing about further restrictions in January - will hospitality be targeted again? More variants are going to emerge, they must have a plan in place as they can't keep closing us down."

Last week First Minister Paul Givan said the emergence of Omicron will become a "challenge" in the New Year and people must be ready for that, adding that civil servants were already "scenario planning" a range of options.

The Department of Health announced on Friday evening new options to show proof of Covid status ahead of today's scheme becoming law.

Digital recovery certificates are now available through the CovidcertNI, providing official confirmation for someone who has tested positive in the past six months.

In addition, anyone who cannot receive a Covid-19 vaccination on medical grounds can now apply for an exemption certificate.

The department said the Covidcert NI app - which has a QR code for those who have been fully vaccinated - is the easiest way to show proof but vaccination cards will also be accepted.

Negative lateral flow tests taken in previous 48 hours will also be accepted.

A spokesman said the scheme is "to help limit the transmission of Covid-19 in higher risk settings".

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Northern Ireland news