The Health Minister has described nightclubs as “high risk” venues and said proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test will help reduce the spread of the virus when they reopen.
Robin Swann said the Executive took into account medical and scientific evidence, as well as the impact on the economy and society, when deciding to give the green light to nightclubs reopening on October 31.
However, he has been unable to predict the likely effect on community transmission and the R number in Northern Ireland.
Responding to a question on the subject from Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw, Mr Swann said: “The Executive weighs up the totality of the effect each restriction can have in combination with other restrictions in reducing the rate of infections of Covid-19.
“Modelling information on which decisions on restrictions are based indicates a range of scenarios regarding transmission and hospitalisations. There is no specific modelling for nightclubs and it would not be possible to produce at such level.
“The aim of the restrictions, whether in regulation or guidance, is to ensure the trajectory of the disease mirrors the optimistic scenario as much as possible, and at a minimum remains lower than the worst case scenario.
“Real-time data compared to modelling suggests that in this context, the restrictions to date have been effective in achieving their aims.
“It is not always possible to disaggregate the precise impact on the rate of transmission of the virus in the community for each of the individual restrictions on their own.”
However, Mr Swann said “nightclubs are high risk settings with poor ventilation, face coverings difficult to use, loud noise and physical activity”.
He continued: “The cohort most likely to visit nightclubs are also associated with a lower uptake of vaccination.
“The use of measures recently discussed by the Executive, such as proof of vaccination, proof of a negative test or proof of recovery from Covid-19, will help mitigate this risk.
“However, it is important to point out that it is important we all act in a responsible manner to help reduce the risk of transmission as much as possible.”
Ms Bradshaw, a member of the Stormont health committee, has raised concerns over the reopening of nightclubs at a time when the NHS is struggling to cope, and without any enforceable mitigations in place.
Nightclubs have been asked to implement Covid passport schemes but they are not mandatory, while social distancing will also be removed.
Ms Bradshaw said the current approach “will lead to increased infection and ultimately increased hospitalisation just when hospitals are facing increased pressures”.
She continued: “Having made a similar error due to DUP intransigence last winter when the then DUP ministers insisted on the reopening of hospitality just as cases were rising, it is essential that this same mistake is not repeated when we really should have learned.”
Yesterday, a further 966 Covid-19 cases and four deaths linked to the virus were reported.
In the most recent figures on elective procedures, 99 planned operations were cancelled in the first week of October. A third of these were red flag operations. In the previous week, 105 elective procedures were cancelled, of which 31 were red flag procedures.