Hospitality businesses warn against using vaccine passports for indoor venues

·5 min read

The hospitality sector has voiced opposition to any move to use Covid-19 vaccine passports for entry to indoor venues in Northern Ireland.

The Irish Government has introduced rules to bar anyone from dining indoors unless they can prove they have been vaccinated or have Covid immunity.

That policy has been cited as a contributory factor in encouraging more young people in the Irish Republic to come forward for jabs

It is understood the Stormont Executive’s Covid-19 taskforce is examining policy issues around using vaccine passports in Northern Ireland and is due to present a paper to ministers.

It is unclear whether senior ministers will adopt the policy in Northern Ireland and previous comments indicate a reluctance to pursue that approach.

On Monday, 72.6% of the eligible population in Northern Ireland had been vaccinated, with lower rates among the 18-30 age groups.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said the sector should not be singled out and urged ministers to talk to the industry and consider a wider approach.

He also questioned making vaccines mandatory to enter hospitality venues, saying: “You cannot blackmail people into doing stuff.”

“There is talk about hospitality being singled out for vaccine passports – we’re saying ‘at least talk to us’,” he told the PA news agency.

“There is a difference between an incentive and removing civil liberties, but there is also the wider question of why just hospitality, why not buses, trains, universities, the gym?”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Neill warned that the idea would be complex to implement, asking where legal liability would rest, and querying the impact on businesses where some staff may not be vaccinated.

He voiced concerns over the potential impact on trade for businesses that were forced to close for months over lockdown.

“In the south, the industry and the Taoiseach and senior ministers were engaged for days in discussions, but we get no discussion,” he said.

Mr Neill urged a better marketing campaign to boost vaccination rates.

Stormont ministers will meet again on August 12 to discuss the state of the pandemic.

Last week, First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill addressed concerns about vaccine passports.

Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster
Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms O’Neill said: “It is something we (the Executive) are going to have to talk about. However, I would have real concerns, genuine concerns from a human rights perspective, particularly in terms of the inequality it can create.

“The Executive hasn’t taken a decision on that as yet, but I can certainly say I would come at it from a very sceptical point of view. But we do intend to come back to it over the next number of weeks, over what it is that we can do.”

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

“I think we need to be careful that we don’t then have a society where these people are unable to access either public or private services, and that’s a discussion we’ll have as an executive going forward,” he told the BBC.

Earlier this week, Feile an Phobail offered 500 event tickets for people who received a vaccination at a pop-up clinic in Falls Park, but despite an early rush, not all the tickets were claimed.

Michelle O'Neill and Paul Givan
Michelle O’Neill and Paul Givan (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the Northern Ireland council of the British Medical Association, said vaccine passports for hospitality are “inevitable”.

“The problem is we have seen over the last couple of weeks hundreds of patients in hospital who mostly aren’t vaccinated occupying hospital beds, and we’re overwhelming our intensive care units, we’re having to take staff away from theatres to look after these patients, and as a result patients with cancer and kidney transplants aren’t being done,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s defensible, I think we have to take action to fix this situation.

“We have already seen this (vaccine passports) for foreign travel, I think that we will (see it for hospitality), I don’t think we have an alternative.”

Dr Black urged more young people to have a vaccine, adding they have a “responsibility to look after themselves, to look after friends and family, colleagues and their health service”.

“They are failing to do that at the minute,” he said.

Coronavirus – Tue Aug 3, 2021
Festival goers at Feile an Phobail queuing to receive the coronavirus vaccination for an event ticket. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland’s chief electoral officer Virginia McVea allayed concerns that many could miss out on the Department for the Economy’s £100 high street voucher scheme next month due to work under way on the electoral register.

A canvass had begun to update the register, and some names of those that have not responded will be removed in November.

She said the department intends to use the September register for the scheme.

Ms McVea said officials believe more than 100,000 people are not on the electoral register, while 180,000 are on the register with the wrong details, such as an out-of-date surname after getting married or updated address after moving house.

“About half of Northern Ireland (700,000 people) have already applied under the canvass, 81,000 people registered yesterday, so the best thing that I can advise people to do, whether to vote or for the voucher, is go online and register today – it takes less than five minutes – or get a paper application,” she said.

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