It’s no exaggeration to say that the NHS is under a lot of pressure across the UK. It often is in winter time – which isn’t unusual due to respiratory viruses being more prevalent during colder times of the year. But Covid adds an extra layer to an already complicated situation for hospitals.
And in Northern Ireland, the NHS is in serious trouble. There’s no other way to put it. Every hospital in the province is already running above capacity – over the weekend, a hospital in Craigavon had to divert ambulances to other regions. And the winter hasn’t even arrived yet.
It’s amidst this background that the Northern Ireland Health Secretary Robin Swann has taken time off from suing Van Morrison in order to say he wants mandatory vaccine passports introduced as soon as possible. He’ll be bringing the subject to Stormont when representatives of the area’s political parties meet up tomorrow.
Now, allow me to remind everyone – this blog is not anti-vax at all. I’m very much pro-vaccination – I’m double jabbed myself. But Covid cases in Northern Ireland are not spiking at the moment. The case numbers have remained in the low four figures for the past four weeks.
And besides, vaccine passports come with their problems. It’s proven vaccines help reduce side effects – to nothing in some cases – but they don’t stop you catching the virus or transmitting it. Infact, a Spanish court previously suggested they provide false reassurance and could actually increase the number of people getting Covid.
So why is the idea being pushed now? A clue might be found by looking across the border – their introduction of vaccine passports is credited with having increased vaccination rates in younger people. Whether this is true or not isn’t something I can establish – but the argument may well seem attractive to an establishment whose options are rather limited.
In the Scottish Parliament, vaccine passports were pushed through thanks to the SNP being kingmakers at the time. England hasn’t introduced them, due to varying ranges of opposition – and Wales demand either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to gain entry to various venues. What way a Stormont with five parties – one apparently completely opposed to their use – will go remains to be seen. Expect an update later this week…
The original version of this article erroneously claimed Wales does not have a vaccine passport scheme. This was incorrect. In fact, Wales does have a “vaccine pass scheme”, as the Welsh government call it. The only difference to the Scotland and Republic of Ireland schemes is that Wales also accept a negative Covid test no older than 48 hours old in order to enter certain venues. Apologies for the error.