Passports for the Covid-19 vaccine will be offered on a mandatory basis to people arriving at certain places in Northern Ireland from next month after Stormont ministers backed the move despite opposition from the DUP.
Executive members from Sinn Féin, UUP, SDLP and Alliance have backed the plan from Stormont Health Secretary Robin Swann, which will see certifications being legally enforced for those attending nightclubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas, theaters and conference rooms.
Under the plan, people wishing to enter designated places will need to show evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result or evidence of infection in the previous six months. Non-compliant venues may be subject to a fine of £1,000.
Certificates will also be required for indoor events with 500 or more attendees where some or all attendees are not normally seated, outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees where some or all of them are not normally seated and events with 10,000 or more attendees whether the audience is seated or not.
The DUP called for a vote in the assembly before introducing the policy but did not deploy a voting mechanism across communities that would have prevented its introduction.
The grace period
Mr Swann wants the regulations needed to change the law to take effect on November 29, with a 14-day grace period before becoming enforceable on December 13. It is also scheduled to establish a set of other measures aimed at increasing compliance with the current epidemic rules and directives and raising vaccination rates.
“Our Covid numbers are very high and we need to forcibly push them down,” he said. Our health and social care system is under severe pressure. We have to move.»
On Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health reported 12 more deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 and another 1,848 cases. There were 427 patients infected with the Covid virus in hospitals, of whom 33 were in intensive care.
Covid-19 transmission rates in Northern Ireland have risen in recent weeks, especially among young people.
A model paper from health officials presented to the executive branch ahead of Wednesday’s meeting warned that passports may not be enough to quell the rising infection rate, which has risen 23 percent in a week.
DUP First Minister Paul Gevan has criticized the vaccine certification policy as «divisive» and claimed it would have a «marginal» effect on reducing transmission rates.
He said it would create a «two-tiered» system where certification is required for some private sector companies but not for access to public services.
«We’re looking at the Republic of Ireland which has this scheme, and its transmission rates are much higher than Northern Ireland,» he said.
Sinn Fein Minister Conor Murphy said «actions now could prevent more serious action in the future» and that the goal was to do «everything we can» to ensure businesses remain open in the lead-up to Christmas.
Social Democratic Party Minister Nicola Malone, who has been demanding vaccine passports for two months, criticized the FDP’s position and asked what alternatives the party proposes to tackle rising transmission rates.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “I don’t want anyone to think that the Covid passport scheme is a silver bullet to this broader problem.
«All of us need to take personal responsibility to ensure we minimize social contact as much as possible, try to maintain social distancing in place and wear our masks and comply with all other regulations.» – PA
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