Swann calls for mandatory vaccine passports in the North

Proposal comes after ambulances diverted away from hospital due to capacity issues

Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health has called for the phased introduction of mandatory vaccine passports in the North.

Robin Swann’s proposal comes after escalating pressures on the region’s beleaguered health system saw ambulances diverted away from a main hospital for two periods within 24 hours.

The powersharing administration currently recommends that nightclubs and other entertainment venues use Covid status checks on entry, but it has stopped short of making it a legal requirement.

The issue has sharply divided the five-party coalition in Belfast, with the SDLP and Alliance having called for a mandatory certification system as a way to make venues safer and drive up vaccination uptake rates.


The two main parties in the Executive – the DUP and Sinn Féin – have resisted calls for compulsory passports, instead expressing a preference for a “partnership approach” with the hospitality industry.

While DUP minister Edwin Poots made clear on Monday that he remained opposed to such a legal move, Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill signalled her party would follow the health advice on the issue and would "take whatever steps are necessary" to avoid another lockdown.

That suggests the DUP could find itself isolated at Wednesday’s meeting if it continues to oppose compulsory passports.

Ulster Unionist minister Mr Swann said he believed the time was now right for mandatory certification to be introduced. "I think now is the time for the phased introduction of Covid certification in Northern Ireland," he told a Stormont news conference on Monday.

Mr Swann said he would bring a proposal to the Executive on Wednesday when he said ministers could discuss the timing of the move and what settings it should be initially applied to.

“Our view as a department of health is that we should be using all the tools that are in our options to use,” he added.

The deaths of a further five patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland were reported on Monday along with another 1,457 positive cases of the virus. On Monday morning, there were 412 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 37 in intensive care.


Craigavon Area Hospital in Co Armagh stopped receiving ambulances carrying patients with non-life-threatening conditions on Sunday night due to severe capacity issues in its emergency department. At one point, there were 108 patients waiting in A&E, 32 needing hospital admission.

However, the hospital – which had 123 Covid-19 inpatients last night – only had three available beds. The first divert was lifted at 10pm on Sunday night, but hospital bosses had to reintroduce it at 10am on Monday morning. The second divert lifted at 2.30pm.

The boss of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said it was "exceptionally close" to declaring a major incident alert on Sunday. Shane Devlin said the health service in Northern Ireland was "on the edge".

The worsening situation within the region’s under-pressure health system comes amid increasing Covid-19 transmission rates, particularly among young people.

Responding to the situation in Craigavon, the British Medical Association had called on the Stormont Executive to revisit the issue of vaccine passports as a "priority".

Making certification a legal entry requirement for hospitality venues has been credited with driving up vaccination rates among young people in the Republic.

North of the Border, the Executive has recommended that nightclubs and other venues carry out Covid entry checks and an official app has been developed to enable people to show proof of their vaccine status.


An emergency resourcing team has been set up to deal with high staff absentee levels in special schools, Northern Ireland MLAs have been told.

Minister of Education Michelle McIlveen said last week 111 teachers were absent and 298 classroom assistants.

Ms McIlveen said the absences, which were down to both Covid and non-Covid reasons, had resulted in the closure of a class in seven schools and one full school site closure.

The week prior to that, beginning November 1st, the minister said there had been class closures at four schools, with 91 teacher absentees and 239 classroom assistants being off.

"The Education Authority has established an emergency resourcing team to support principals in addressing staffing pressures and provide support where required," said Ms McIlveen.

“This team has also reviewed the Northern Ireland substitute teacher register asking teachers to identify an interest and or experience of working with children with SEN [special educational needs] or complex needs.”

Ms McIlveen said some schools were finding it “much more difficult than others to manage”.

She said steps to address the situation included utilisation of relief registers for non-teaching roles.

The minister said officials were also engaging with colleges to see if placement students could help out in some of the affected schools.

Ms Mclveen said Access NI had also pledged to prioritise safeguarding checks for those applying to work in the education sector to help address the situation.

The issue of staff absences in special schools had been raised during Assembly question time by the Green Party NI's Rachel Woods. – PA