Armed with my NHS certificates I headed south – and I needed the paperwork
I crossed the border for the first time last week with all the trepidation of a man crossing the Lagan blindfolded on a tightrope.
Not of course because of any political or religious concerns about venturing south.
But because the confines of Northern Ireland have been my comfort zone in the past 18 months of Covid uncertainty and even they’ve been uncomfortable enough at times. And going any further than the wee six has been worrying for this born again worrier.
Even Britain has been a Boris bridge too far and has seen me cancelling plans to go to a family wedding across the water — and losing money on air fares in the process.
But last week I decided to grow a pair and head on a staycation into the deep south. And so armed with the much-vaunted NHS certificates that certified that our party had been double-jabbed, we travelled into the unknown.
To be honest, I’d been sceptical about whether or not the paperwork would even be needed in the Republic — or if talk of scans was something of a scam.
A few weeks earlier I’d been told online that I wouldn’t be admitted to a football match here without showing a certificate to prove I had two pricks so to speak. But nobody at the entrance to the ground asked to see any notification that I had been vaccinated.
However, in the Republic last week it was a totally different ball game. And it was all the better for that.
Everywhere we went for a meal, a coffee or a drink — and I mean everywhere — the routine was the same.
From five-star luxury hotels to humble fast food outlets in garages, the policy was enforced on the way in with a member of staff scanning the barcodes on our passes.
And woe betide anyone who didn’t have the proper documents because thou shalt not pass without a pass was the order of the day and night. And it was also re-assuring to think that everyone else around us had had two jabs even in bars that were a lot more crowded than any we’d been in back in the north. Speaking to pub and restaurant staff it became clear that there hadn’t been any major level of opposition to showing them the certificates.
One bar owner said that the fears of a surge of antipathy towards the passes never materialised just as predictions fell flat a few years ago that drinkers who enjoyed a ciggie wouldn’t tolerate the smoking ban in the Republic.
Up here, of course, a lot of people have been arguing vehemently that the vaccines and the certificates have been infringements of civil liberties.
Only a few days ago the Executive at Stormont announced more relaxations on Covid-restrictions — among them the legal requirement for social distancing in pubs and restaurants.
A number of mitigations have been agreed with businesses likely to be asked to check vaccine certificates on a voluntary basis.
During our break in the Republic we heard experts on the telly saying that the Covid-19 vaccine uptake down there would have been much lower without the passport scheme.
The Dublin government have said their Covid regulations should hopefully be lifted by October 22 but speaking to people in the Republic there was a significant wariness to remove them too soon.
No one can possibly know what the winter will hold in terms of the virus and if it will bite back big time over the next few months.
But it’s been comforting to learn that politicians at Stormont are keeping legal restrictions on ice in case they’re needed again for the cold days and weeks ahead.
And I have a feeling that many people will continue to exercise their own self-imposed caution by keeping a distance and wearing masks for a long time to come.