Northern Ireland’s COVID-19 passport scheme, which requires people to provide proof of vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result or evidence of a previous coronavirus infection to gain entry to licenced premises and entertainment venues, is set to become legally enforceable today.
The scheme was introduced late last month with a two-week grace period to allow businesses to adjust to the new requirements.
The rules will apply to the hospitality sector including pubs, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as entry to large indoor and outdoor events, such as cinemas, concerts, theatres, and sporting events.
The regulations that give legal weight to the new system will be subject to a vote in the Stormont Assembly this afternoon, and it’s unlikely that the law changes will be voted down.
Under the regulations, businesses which repeatedly fail to administer the scheme could face fines of up to £10,000.
While the DUP opposed the scheme at the Stormont Executive last month, branding it a distraction that would have marginal effect in suppressing the transmission of COVID, the coalition’s other four parties supported its introduction.
If the parties vote the same way in the Assembly, the regulations should pass with ease in a straight majority vote.
New restrictions ‘likely’ in Wales
In Wales, health minister Eluned Morgan warned that new restrictions are “likely” to be introduced as the country faces an impending “tsunami” from the Omicron variant.
She said the Welsh government wanted “to act proportionately” as there were only around 15 cases of the new strain, but that was likely to “change very quickly in a very short space of time”.
In last Friday’s three-week review, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced reviews would now take place weekly due to the threat posed by the Omicron variant.
Ms Morgan said “no decisions” had been made yet on what future restrictions could look like.
“The last thing we want to do is to impose the kind of restrictions that we saw last Christmas unless we absolutely have to,” she said.
“We know that last Christmas was really disappointing for so many people. That’s not where we want to be, but we will always act in the best interests of the people of Wales.”
Meanwhile, First Minister Mark Drakeford has urged people to get a booster vaccination and said the number of vaccination clinics would be increasing with opening hours extended.
“This is a fast-moving form of coronavirus, which has the potential to cause a large wave of infections in Wales,” he said.
“This could lead to large numbers of people needing hospital treatment at a time when our NHS is under significant pressure.
“Our best defence continues to be vaccination. Emerging evidence shows the booster dose is vital.
“We are doing everything we can to accelerate our vaccination programme to increase the number of people who will receive their booster in the coming days and weeks.”
‘Urgent efforts’ in Scotland to accelerate jabs
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said “urgent efforts” are being made to accelerate the booster programme, with over-30s able to book appointments from Monday and 18-29-year-olds in the following days.
She said her government’s aim is to offer a “booster jab appointment to all eligible adults by the end of this year if possible”.
And she warned that “given the expected volume of cases in the weeks ahead” it is also possible that “further, proportionate protective measures or advice will be necessary”.
The Scottish cabinet is due to meet on Tuesday morning ahead of a coronavirus statement from Ms Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament in the afternoon.