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Northern Ireland to drop vaccine passports in pubs, restaurants and cinemas

Following today’s meeting of the NI Executive, Stormont ministers have agreed to drop the use of controversial vaccine passports in pubs, restaurants and cinemas across the North from midday next Wednesday, 26th January. The ditching of vaccine passports is part of a range of welcome relaxations to Northern Ireland’s COVID restrictions.

The move means that proof of vaccination status will no longer be legally required in hospitality premises from the 26th of January. Nightclubs are also set to open after closing their doors in December the wake of the Omicron variant. 

A COVID passport system will however remain in place for now in nightclubs and indoor unseated and partially-seated events which have 500 or more people in attendance. 

In today’s breakthrough meeting, ministers also agreed to remove table service rules in hospitality businesses and the “rule of six” per table from midday on Friday, 21st January. The BBC reports that hospitality businesses will still be advised in guidance to retain the use of COVID certification.

The new changes, announced today by Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill during a visit to Derry, mean that the guidance limit of three households permitted to meet indoors in a home is also set to go from Friday.

Under the new plan, nightclubs will welcome back revellers from Wednesday – with dancing and indoor standing events to be allowed again. 

The Stormont executive has also reduced the self-isolation period from seven days to five days. Also from next Wednesday, the requirement for offices to “take reasonable measures for 2m social diatancing” will be scrapped – although risk assessments will still be carried out.

First Minister Paul Givan hailed the changes as a “step in the right direction” and added that the policy shifts reflected the changing circumstances in the North. Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was “clear we were past the peak” in terms of COVID case numbers and the number of COVID patients admitted to hospital. 

COVID passports, which were introduced in November, were met with significant outcry in the North, with DUP ministers all voting against the system – which is reported to have cost £10 million.

“All of our ministers voted against this due to a range of concerns,” Paul Givan said in November. 

TUV leader Jim Allister said that the decision to introduce the passes was “wrongheaded both in focus and effect”. He added that: “Until now any restrictions have applied equally to all. Now, this move picks out a section of society for the special treatment of exclusion on a mandatory basis. This is wrong.”

Speaking when COVID passports were given the green light before Christmas, he added: “I fear today’s announcement will needlessly breed division and take the focus of failures of the executive to build up our hospitality provision and the woeful tardiness in delivery of the booster jabs.”

Colin Neil, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster – the representative body for NI’s hospitality industry – also opposed the decision. He said the decision to impose the certification system on the hospitality industry “without any mention of support” sent “a clear signal that we are of no value or concern.”

He noted that the majority of his sector were opposed to the contentious measures, and that it was likely that vaccine passes would impact footfall for bars, restaurants and other hospitality settings. 

Colin Johnson, managing director for hotel group and the Galgorm collection, agreed with Neil that the hospitality industry had been “singled out” and claimed that the executive had “legislated against us” in making the decision to mandate vaccine passes for hospitality.

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