Unionists Sammy Wilson, Paul Givan, Paul Frew and Jim Allister critical of decision to make vaccine passports mandatory
Sammy Wilson has suggested that the DUP could yet block the move to make vaccine passports mandatory after a majority vote at Stormont saw the proposal passed.
The DUP MP said it was a “bad decision” that was “made in haste” to enforce Covid passports in Northern Ireland.
Mr Wilson also accused Health Minister Robin Swann of bringing forward the policy to “hide his own lack of planning”.
DUP ministers voted against the move but were outvoted by the other parties. They did not use the petition of concern veto mechanism.
Mr Swann has been asked to produce a further paper with more information.
Mr Wilson, who is not a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Executive, hinted that his party still could intervene: “It may well be that our ministers have decided not to use the veto until they have got the additional information”.
Fellow DUP man Paul Frew vowed to never use a vaccine passport and to “fight any discrimination against people due to medical history and status”.
Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy said the DUP has “always had ideological objections to restrictions during this pandemic” while Nichola Mallon of the SDLP criticised the delay by the Executive in introducing mandatory vaccine passports since her party proposed them two months ago.
First Minister Paul Givan has criticised the Executive’s decision to agree to introduce mandatory vaccine passports and said the Assembly should be allowed to vote on the regulations before they take effect.
Mr Givan said passports will have a “marginal” impact on reducing cases of Covid-19 compared to other measures, adding that his party voted against it because of “a range of concerns”.
He said: “I indicated to my colleagues on the Executive, this regulation, whenever the final draft is ready to be presented to the Assembly and then commenced in law, should be voted upon first, before it takes effect.
“Every other regulation debate, the Assembly has voted upon this after it has taken effect. That shouldn’t happen in this case.
“Other parliaments across the UK voted before this policy was brought in and the Assembly members, who are democratically elected, should be allowed to vote on these regulations before it takes effect.”
TUV leader Jim Allister echoed those sentiments though questioned the power-wielding capacity of Mr Givan: “The Executive’s decision to press ahead with mandatory vaccine passports, which I believe is wrongheaded both in focus and effect, must be brought to the Assembly for an early vote.
“The common practice of voting on these proposals weeks after implementation won’t do. I welcome the First Minister – who appears to be in office but not in power – concurring on this point but note it was the Executive in the original Covid regulations which introduced this absurdity of retrospective approval.”
He added: “Encouragement of hospitality businesses and events organisers to seek proof of vaccine or a negative test is one thing, and to me acceptable, but to make such mandatory is a step too far.
“The clear purpose of the mandatory vaccine passport is to compel people to get vaccinated, yet, the Executive would not dare make vaccination mandatory but seeks the same outcome by the stealth of mandatory passports.
“I fear this announcement will needlessly breed division and take the focus off failures of the Executive to build up our hospital provision and the woeful tardiness in delivery of the booster jabs.”
Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said that following the vote, “one of the strongest things that can come now is a joint message coming from all the Executive ministers”.
He told reporters at Stormont that it is about taking steps now to avoid further action in a few weeks’ time.
He described an additional paper for other measures which his department is preparing will be about compliance and enforcement.
Mr Swann also defended the making of vaccine passports: “It can reduce the number of infected people in high-risk settings. Vaccinated people are less likely to become infected and ill than unvaccinated people. And the virus is only transmitted by infected people.
“Our Covid numbers are too high and we need to forcibly push them down. Our health and social care system is under severe stress. We have to act.
“Let me also emphasise that I do not want to see further Covid restrictions on our economy or our daily lives. Such a decision is far from inevitable.
“We all want this pandemic to be over, but simply wishing it away is never going to be enough. A united effort across society is what is needed to get us through this winter.”
The vaccine certificates require proof of full vaccination, a negative lateral flow test in the previous 48 hours or proof of recovery from a positive PCR test in the previous 30–180 days.
Covid certification will be used to gain entry to nightclubs, hospitality premises that serve food and/or drink, cinemas, theatres and conferences halls. It will also be needed to access indoor events with 500 or more attendees where some or all of the audience is not normally seated.
Certificates would be required for outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees where some or all of the audience is not normally seated.
They would also be mandatory at all events of 10,000 or more whether seated or not.
Mr Swann wants the regulations needed for the law change come into effect on November 29, with a 14-day grace period prior to becoming enforceable on December 13.
Non-compliant venues could be hit with a £1,000 fine.
The deaths of a further 12 patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland were reported yesterday along with another 1,848 positive cases.
Without a significant decline in Covid transmissions health experts in NI have said that more severe restrictions will need to be considered from mid-December.
In the Irish Republic there is talk of another lockdown to with Ireland’s chief medical officer saying cancelling plans to socialise in the run-up to Christmas would be a “responsible decision”.
A further paper is needed to back up the introduction of mandatory passports in NI, but in the meantime the modelling paper presented yesterday at Stormont notes that ICU occupancy and deaths have decreased in the last week, but stresses that there is a time lag on those indicators.
The Health Department experts state that without further intervention “as soon as possible”, modelling suggests that hospital capacity will be exceeded in mid-December, if the current trajectory follows a central pathway.
The paper states: “Evidence suggests that adherence to guidelines by the public is declining and that there has been very low uptake of Covid certification on a voluntary basis by the hospitality sector.”
It says mitigations like face mask use and work from home guidance will be unlikely to bring the reproduction rate below one unless they are accompanied by “widespread used of Covid certification across higher risk settings”.
It says without a significant decline in community transmission in the next three weeks “there is a risk that more severe restrictions will need to be considered from mid-December to avoid hospital capacity from being overwhelmed”.
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