Covid certification scheme will only be mandatory in licensed premises

Vaccine certificates will only be required for licensed premises. Credit: PA

The new Covid certification scheme will not be mandatory in unlicensed premises in Northern Ireland "at this stage", the Department of Health has said.

The department has confirmed it is to introduce the new regulations in draft form on Monday, but they will require Assembly approval to become operational.

Under the policy, people wishing to gain entry to designated venues will 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.

There will be no enforcement on the regulations, through fines for non-compliance, until 13 December.

Cafes will be exempt from the proposed rules. Credit: ITV

The department has confirmed the regulations will only be mandatory in licensed premises to begin with, including venues operating a "bring your own" alcohol facility.

This means that premises such as coffee shops and cafes will not have to enforce the certification system.

Covid certification will be required at nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and conference halls.

A spokesman said: "This phased approach follows feedback during engagement with the retail, hospitality, tourism and events sectors.

"The department will continue to work with Executive Covid Taskforce (ECT) colleagues on ongoing engagement with the key sectors".

Earlier, Northern Ireland's Economy Minister called for the Stormont Executive to ditch its plan for the certification system.

Last week, four of the five Stormont Executive parties voted in favour of the scheme proposed by Health Minister Robin Swann.

DUP ministers voted against it, describing the initiative as a "distraction" that would have marginal impact.

Economy minister Gordon Lyons MLA. Credit: UTV

In a letter to Mr Swann on Friday, seen by the PA news agency, DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons branded the proposals "ill thought through and in many cases unenforceable".

He said it was "neither fair nor reasonable" for hospitality outlets to introduce the scheme on Monday when as of Friday morning the regulations putting it into law had yet to be published.

In the letter, which was copied to various Stormont officials and the Attorney General, Mr Lyon wrote: "I think colleagues would agree that the proposal for Covid certifications was brought forward in haste with neither a clear policy intention nor any solid evidence of effectiveness in halting the transmission of the virus."

He added: "Whilst the threat of Covid remains very real, interventions from this Executive need to be evidence based, targeted and effective. Sadly the proposals for Covid passports are none of these things.

"Whilst I acknowledge that it would take an act of political bravery to change our position on Domestic Certification, I would strongly encourage Executive colleagues to do so."

Mr Lyons said that with every passing hour it became more apparent there was a "myriad of issues" with the scheme. He said there had been a lack of meaningful engagement with sectors that would have to use it.

He said the announcement of the plan has already had a "very real" economic impact.

Mr Lyons claimed hotels in the region had been hit with £2 m worth of cancellations in the first two days after the policy was agreed.

He said Christmas parties and other bookings were being cancelled on a "worryingly regular basis".

"For an industry that had felt singled out during the pandemic, and has borne the brunt of restrictions, this is all hard for them to take," he said.

"It is abundantly clear from listening to the hospitality sector that it is neither fair nor reasonable to introduce this policy within a matter of days when as late as this morning no regulations nor details have been shared with them."

He said he was especially concerned about the effect on small restaurants and cafes who not do have enough "staff or space" to carry out the checks on certs.