Covid-19: North sees ‘remarkable’ boost in vaccination rates

Some 10,000 people receive first dose following launch of vaccine passport scheme

The introduction of a Covid-19 vaccine passport scheme in the North has led to a “quite remarkable” boost in the number of people coming forward for vaccination.

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Michael McBride, said on Wednesday that 10,000 people had received a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine in the week since the scheme was announced.

Ministers in the North agreed last week to make proof of vaccination mandatory in certain hospitality and large capacity venues, including pubs, restaurants and nightclubs.

The scheme will begin operation on November 29th, with enforcement due to come into effect from December 13th.

Speaking to reporters as he received his Covid booster vaccine in a health centre in north Belfast, Dr McBride said 10,000 first doses and 84,000 booster doses had been administered in the last week.

He said a “combination of motives” were encouraging people to come forward.

“I think people have delayed and I think people do recognise the fact that it is really, really important to get your vaccine, not just to protect yourself but others,” he said.

“But, also, it opens up that pathway into hospitality and I think there’s no doubt there is evidence that people will get the vaccine because they recognise that it opens doors into pubs and restaurants and allows people to get their lives back.”

He said he hoped the scheme would create a “bounce from this for, hopefully, hospitality in particular, because more people, more people like me, will feel more confident going out into hospitality knowing that everyone has either been vaccinated or has had a lateral flow test and it’s not infectious”, he said.

On Wednesday the North's Department of Health reported a further four deaths of people with Covid-19, and 1,931 new positive cases of the virus.

A total of 386 patients with Covid-19 were receiving hospital treatment on Wednesday morning, with 36 in intensive care.

Asked about the warning from the Minister for Health, Robin Swann, earlier this week that some hospitality businesses could be forced to close over Christmas if Covid-19 cases continue to increase, Dr McBride said all ministers were "united" in wanting to "keep society open as much as possible".

He said there was a balance to be struck and “we want our economy flourishing but at the same time we also need to recognise that we now need to control the rates of infection.

“So we have a real opportunity now to act early, act decisively, all come together and control the rates of infection and avoid any more restrictive measures that may be required later,” he said.

Meanwhile, health chiefs at the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) have appealed to patients who are well enough to leave hospital to move into care homes to address an urgent shortage of beds.

Brendan Whittle, director of social care and children at the HSCB, said it was “wrong” for patients who are well enough to leave to stay in a hospital bed when there are other patients waiting to be admitted.

Additional reporting: PA