Michelle O’Neill keeps ‘open mind’ on vaccine certs for hospitality in North

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Michelle O’neill Keeps ‘Open Mind’ On Vaccine Certs For Hospitality In North Michelle O’neill Keeps ‘Open Mind’ On Vaccine Certs For Hospitality In North
Michelle O'Neill and other ministers met at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive today. Photo: PA
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By David Young and Cate McCurry, PA

Michelle O’Neill has pledged to keep an open mind on using vaccine access passports within the North, but reiterated her concerns about such a system.

The Government has introduced rules in the Republic to bar anyone from eating and drinking in indoor hospitality venues unless they can prove they have been vaccinated or have Covid immunity.

The policy has been cited as a contributory factor in encouraging more young people to come forward for jabs.

Stormont officials are examining policy issues around using a vaccine certification system in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Ms O’Neill insisted ministers had yet to reach a formal position on the concept.

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“On the issue of these domestic certs for access I have issue with those things,” she told reporters in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

“It’s fact to say that the Executive hasn’t taken a policy position on that as yet.

“However, the discussions today at the Executive was that health (department) need to look at, if we did get into that point, what would a system like that look like.

“And then we can come back to the policy decision as to whether or not you would use such a system.

“I would be worried in terms of it being a discriminatory system, you know there’s a whole lot of human rights concerns and other things that goes with that.

“However, I’ll keep an open mind and I’ll have the discussion but, for now, health just needs to be prepared for, if we did go there, what would it look like and how would it operate?”

DUP First Minister Paul Givan has also previously voiced concern about domestic vaccine passports.

Last month, Mr Givan said ministers would need to be “cautious” about such a policy, saying it could lead to the exclusion of some people.

Self-isolation rules

It comes as ministers in the Northern Executive agreed that rules on self-isolation can be relaxed.

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People who are close contacts of positive cases will no longer have to isolate for 10 days, as long as they test negative, have no symptoms and have had both jabs of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The move, which was agreed at a virtual meeting of the powersharing Executive and comes into effect on Monday, brings the North into line with rule changes already agreed in Scotland, England and Wales.

At Thursday’s meeting, ministers also agreed to end class bubbling arrangements in schools.

However, ministers decided to retain the use of face coverings in post-primary school classrooms for the first six weeks of the new term.

The relaxation to the self-isolation rules also apply to close contacts in school settings.

Rule changes

Ministers also agreed a series of other rule changes at the meeting.

Steps, which apply from Monday, include the removal of the cap on the number of people who can gather together outside in domestic gardens; the end of household bubbling arrangements; scrapping social distancing requirements on public transport; and the removal of a six-person limit at tables in hospitality venues.

The removal of the six-person table limit will also apply to wedding receptions.

Ministers have also agreed that conferences and exhibitions can resume. There will also be a full return to face-to-face onsite learning at universities and further education colleges.

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The Executive’s advice for people to work from home if they can remains unchanged.

Aside from public transport, other social distancing rules and guidance remain unchanged, as do the rules around wearing face masks in indoor settings.

The number of people who can meet inside a domestic home remain capped at 10, from no more than three households.

Ministers also did not take a decision in relation to the ongoing ban on nightclubs operating in the North.

The Executive met for the first time in two weeks amid continuing high infection rates in Northern Ireland.

Michelle O’Neill said the relaxations taken by the Executive were “cautious”. Photo: PA

Transmission rates in the region are the highest in Britain and Ireland.

For the seven days up to August 1st, the region’s infection rate was 445.3 per 100,000 of the population.

This was almost twice as high as the rate in England (282.1) and more than three times as high as the rate in Scotland (143.6) and Wales (141.5).

Ms O’Neill said the decisions taken by the Executive were “cautious” and “proportionate” to the current high infection rates in the North.

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She said health officials had advised that the region was currently at the peak of the current wave of infections, and numbers should start dropping in the coming weeks.

She said the Executive would be in a better position to make decisions on remaining restrictions come the first week of September.

“Hopefully what we’ve done today is to demonstrate that with the public support we’re continuing to make progress,” she told reporters in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

“We’re not there yet but we’re certainly getting there and we’re hoping that we’ll start to see a fall in the number of positive cases daily over the coming weeks.”

Ms O’Neill again stressed the need to increase vaccine uptake in the North.

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“It’s not about vaccine shaming or anything like that but anybody who hasn’t had the vaccine yet we would encourage people to please take it up, it’s the best thing we can do,” she said.

Three further deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland on Thursday, along with 1,610 new confirmed cases of the virus

On Thursday morning, there were 341 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 42 in intensive care.

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