Explained: How Northern Ireland's Covid passports set to be introduced in December will work

Mandatory Covid passports are set to be introduced in Northern Ireland after Stormont ministers voted by a majority to support the move.

The measures will mean people must show proof of vaccination, a negative test, or recent Covid infection to gain access to venues including pubs, restaurants and cinemas.

It is understood DUP ministers opposed Health Minister Robin Swann’s proposal at the Executive meeting on Wednesday evening.

However, the other four Executive parties – Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance and Mr Swann’s UUP – backed the move.

Mr Swann wants to see enforceable Covid certification in operation across a range of hospitality settings from December 13, following a 'grace period' to allow preparation time for the new rules.

What will a Covid vaccine pass mean?

Mr Swann is proposing that regulations needed for the law change come into effect on November 29, with a 14-day grace period prior to becoming enforceable on December 13.

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.

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

It is understood Mr Swann has proposed that passports are used to gain entry to:

  • Nightclubs and other hospitality premises that serve food and/or drink such as bars, pubs and restaurants;

  • Cinemas and theatres;

  • Conference halls.

Covid certificates would also be needed to access indoor events with 500 or more attendees where some or all of the audience is not normally seated.

They would be required for outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees where some or all of the audience is not normally seated.

They would also be mandatory at all events of 10,000 or more attendees, whether the audience is seated or not.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

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.

Economy minister Paul Frew took to social media to voice his opposition to the decision following the Executive meeting.

In a tweet, he said: "I don’t know what happened at the Executive today but I can tell you this I will never have a Domestic Covid vaccine certificate in my hand."

Northern Ireland Minister of Health Robin Swann wants to introduce Covid passports in a range of settings Credit: PA

A modelling paper from health officials presented to the Executive ahead of Wednesday’s meeting warned passports may not be enough to suppress rapidly increasing Covid case numbers, which have surged 23% in a week.

The paper's authors warned that “more severe restrictions” may need to be considered in mid-December to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed.

Mr Swann’s proposals come amid escalating pressures on the region’s health system.

Covid-19 transmission rates have soared in recent weeks, particularly among young people.

The briefing note also explains that this rise was "likely due to the impact of relaxations at the end of October, with limited adherence to guidance by relevant sectors."

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