Stormont’s leaders have indicated they want to avoid having to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passports.
First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill urged that the public work together to avoid them having to be introduced.
It is understood that officials are continuing to work to create a system if necessary, but that ministers did not agree to its introduction when they met on Thursday.
Speaking after the Executive meeting, O’Neill stressed: “We don’t want to go down the mandatory route if we don’t have to,” and urged “safer choices.”
Givan said he feels it 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.
While some relaxations of the COVID-19 regulations were agreed, such as the removal of the legal requirement for social distancing in bars and restaurants; face coverings in certain settings, risk assessments, and taking people’s details in hospitality will continue throughout the winter period.
The deputy first minister said it is also important that the Executive can respond if things become more difficult and challenging, particularly in the health service.
“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,” she added.
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 upon.
Last week, Swann warned that a delay by the Executive in agreeing to a vaccine passport policy had limited options for easing more restrictions.
By Rebecca Black