North health minister worried about ‘confusion’ about face masks

Northern Ireland’s health minister said he was concerned about public confusion over what ministers had agreed on wearing face coverings at nightclubs.

Stormont Executive has agreed that masks will not be mandatory for dancing in nightclubs when they reopen next Sunday.

Health Minister Robin Swan has urged clubs that reopen to consider using vaccine certification as a condition of entry.

He was speaking at Kingspan Stadium, home of Ulster rugby, which has become the site of a Covid booster and flu vaccine clinic for Castlereagh Medical Center patients.

Mr Swan said: «What worries me is the confusion regarding the message we have in relation to face coverings. Face coverings are still mandatory in Northern Ireland, if it is on public transport, in retail or in crowded places.

«When it comes to one message, I am concerned that there is some confusion as to what has been agreed upon, and what has been talked about.»

There has been criticism of some of the relaxation that the CEO, with Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA’s Northern Ireland Board, has agreed to call it «madness».

The vaccination center at Kingspan Stadium (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

Alliance Party and SDLP ministers also insisted that the easing should continue only if they are accompanied by mandatory vaccine passports.

On October 31, nightclubs are set to reopen in Northern Ireland and social distancing rules that currently limit capacity in pubs and restaurants will move from regulation to directive.

People will also be able to move freely around the hospitality venues from that date, including being able to stand at the bar for a drink.

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Responding to criticism of the executive’s decisions, Mr. Swan said: «I would ask people to consider the proportionate steps the executive has taken in relation to easing restrictions, and we have always taken them at a time when we have seen that there is the capacity to do so.

«What I’m going to say, these easing of restrictions came with some questions as well. There is an option for anywhere to get guidance on the use of Covid vaccine certification or people who have received a lateral flow test. I would encourage those places that open their doors to look at this guidance that is in place.»

“But the people who go to nightclubs are also responsible. One of the things I would say to them is to be responsible.”

On Friday, Mr Swan warned that Northern Ireland’s health services were facing their toughest winter ever, as he detailed winter and Covid delivery plans at local health trusts.

Speaking on Saturday, he said: «What winter looks like, it’s stark and disturbing.

Robin Swan talks to the staff at Kingsspan Stadium (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

“One of the things that we have done and have had to do over the last 18 months is work together and produce this level of plans to make sure we have contingencies in place.

We know why we are in this situation. It’s 10 years of underinvestment in our health services. This isn’t just in bricks and mortar, it’s also in our workforce.

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«We’re playing catch-up, not just in terms of that but we’re playing catch-up while we’re fighting what’s still a global pandemic and virus. In a health service that has been struggling to get started.»

The Minister also expressed his happiness to see so many people come to Kingspan Stadium to get a booster dose of Covid virus and anti-influenza.

Dr Deirdre Savage, GP at Castlereagh Medical Centre, said: “We are very grateful to Ulster Rugby for their support as we aim to vaccinate 2,500 patients over the next few weeks.

Covid-boosted flu vaccines play a vital role in protecting people this winter. Patients who qualify for both punches are strongly encouraged to apply when it is their turn. You don’t have to call your GP – they will call you.»

Meanwhile, another 10 deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 have been reported in Northern Ireland.

The region’s health ministry has also reported 1,323 cases of the virus.

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