Mandatory Covid vaccine passports are to be introduced in Northern Ireland following a vote by executive ministers.

The DUP voted against the move but it was supported by Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and Ulster Unionist party.

The proposal was made by Health Minister Robin Swann with more detailed proposals expected shortly.

The rules will take effect on 29 November but there will be a 14-day grace period before people are liable to fixed penalty notices.

The measures will apply to restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, conference halls and indoor events with more than 500 not seated.

Outdoor events with more than 4,000 people not seated will also be liable, while events with more than 10,000 people will require the passports whether attendees are seated or not.

Mr Swann wants to see enforceable Covid certification in operation across a range of hospitality settings from 13 December.

While the four DUP ministers voted against the proposal, the party did not deploy a cross-community voting mechanism that could have blocked the introduction of vaccine certification in the region.

The Department of Health is now set to produce a further paper detailing how the policy will be rolled out.


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'More severe restrictions' may be considered next month

Under the proposals, people wishing to gain entry to the venues would need to demonstrate evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result, or proof of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months.

Responding to today's decision, the DUP MP Sammy Wilson described the move as a "bad decision".

"This was a decision that was made in haste by the Executive," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"It's bad decision which is going to cost the hospitality industry a huge amount of money and it's going to result, I understand, in huge fines for those businesses and for individuals who don't comply."

Mr Wilson also accused Mr Swann of bringing forward the policy to "hide his own lack of planning".

"I don't believe that anyone should have to reveal their medical status to anyone, that should be a private issue," he said.

SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon said the DUP has questions to answer over its opposition to mandatory vaccine passports.

She said: "What is their plan to protect our health service? What is their plan to reduce transmission rates, to reduce hospitalisation, to reduce deaths.

"And what is their plan to reduce the chances of people, right across Northern Ireland, facing the possibility of further restrictions coming up to Christmas?"

Mr Swann welcomed the executive's decision.

He also said a "range of sustained actions" are needed to tackle the growth in cases of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Other measures are to include a significantly increased use of face coverings, more people working from home and more social distancing.

Today, the Department of Health reported that there have been a further 12 deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

Another 1,848 positive cases of the virus were also notified by the Department today.

This morning there were 427 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 33 in intensive care.

Health officials in Northern Ireland have warned Covid passports may not be enough to stop hospitals being overwhelmed and "more severe restrictions" may need to be considered next month.

A Covid-19 modelling paper from the Department of Health has informed executive ministers that positive cases have risen by 23% in a week.

The paper, seen by the PA news agency, attributes the surge partly to relaxations in the hospitality sector at the end of October and the return of schools after mid-term.

Hospital admissions have risen by 19% in the last week, while occupancy is up 10%.

The conversion rate of cases to hospital admissions has risen above 2% for the first time since early September, and is now estimated at around 2.8%.

The paper says an increase in admissions is inevitable in the coming week and will continue to rise beyond that if cases numbers are not reduced.

Officials warn that community transmission is at a "high level and increasing rapidly".

The modelling paper notes ICU occupancy and deaths have decreased in the last week, but stresses the lag in those indicators means they do not account for the recent surge in infections.

The Health Department experts state that without further intervention "as soon as possible", modelling suggests hospital capacity may be exceeded in mid-December, if the current trajectory follows a central pathway.

The paper states: "Evidence suggests that adherence to guidelines by the public is declining and that there has been very low uptake of Covid certification on a voluntary basis by the hospitality sector."

It states the need for immediate measures to increase adherence to current mitigations - such as face mask use and work-from-home guidance.

It says those mitigations will be unlikely to bring the reproduction rate below one unless they are accompanied by "widespread use of Covid certification across higher risk settings".

The paper warns that all those measures combined may not be sufficient to reduce case numbers.

It says without a significant decline in community transmission in the next three weeks "there is a risk that more severe restrictions will need to be considered from mid-December to avoid hospital capacity from being overwhelmed".

Additional reporting PA