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Leaders rule out mandatory jab passports

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First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Credit: PA

First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Credit: PA

PA

First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Credit: PA

Stormont’s leaders have welcomed the latest easing of restrictions on the hospitality sector but have ruled out making Covid passports mandatory — for now.

First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said on Thursday that they wanted to keep the measure voluntary, urging the public and the business sector to play a role to avoid the Executive imposing the measure.

It is understood that officials are continuing to work to create a system if necessary, but that ministers did not agree its introduction when they met on Thursday.

However, they did agree on removing the legal requirement for social distancing in bars and restaurants, with the one-metre rule removed for the hospitality sector from October 31.

Nightclubs can also reopen from that date. At a press conference, Mrs O’Neill said: “We don’t want to go down the mandatory route if we don’t have to”, and urged “safer choices”.

Mr Givan said insisted the issue is about “partnership” — in terms of people being responsible and businesses and sectors working with the Stormont Executive.

He said there has been a high level of adherence to the rules in the hospitality sector.
“I am hopeful that this voluntary approach will work,” he said.

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Although some relaxations of the coronavirus regulations were agreed, face coverings in certain settings, risk assessments and taking people’s details in hospitality will continue throughout the winter period.

However, Mrs O’Neill said it is also important that the Executive factor in developments, particularly within the health service, if the Covid situation worsens.

“There are measures which we don’t want to be in a place to introduce but we have to be ready for that, just in case that we get to that point,” the Deputy First Minister added.

“We’re in for an uncertain period ahead and we have to work our way through that as best we can.”

Mrs O’Neill said that would include a vaccine passport and a return of social distancing.

“We’re going to do everything we can to avoid getting to that point,” she added.

Health Minister Robin Swann and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon have both called for a vaccine passport policy to be agreed.

Last week, Mr Swann warned that a delay by the Executive in agreeing a vaccine passport policy had limited options for easing more restrictions.

Meanwhile, Mr Givan said the latest easing of restrictions would enable hospitality to “operate in a much more sustainable and viable way.”


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