SDLP Leader Proposes 'Significant Change' To Winter Covid Strategy

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood has proposed a "significant change" to the Executive's approach to the vaccination programme and managing the Covid response ahead of what he said was going to a difficult winter period.

The Foyle MP has called on Ministers to implement a Covid pass system that will require individuals to be fully vaccinated to enter hospitality and entertainment venues. He cites the experience of the South where vaccination rates have increased following the introduction of vaccine passports and other European countries like France where robust action has delivered clear results.

Speaking after Health Minister Robin Swann warned that current transmission levels could see the closure of Accident and Emergency Departments and interruptions to ambulance cover, Colum Eastwood MP said: "The weeks ahead represent a critical juncture in our effort to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control and protect people across our communities. We have a narrowing window to learn from our past experience of the virus and maximise the opportunities presented by the vaccination programme which has undoubtedly saved lives.
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"I have been alarmed by the consistently high numbers of new cases over the last number of weeks. It has placed additional strain on health services that have been operating beyond their stress limits for eighteen months. As we enter the winter period, when we know that seasonal pressures will increase, with dire warnings from the Health Minister about the closure of A&E departments and interruptions to ambulance cover, we need to take action.

"As a political leader I am not prepared to stand by and just hope that case numbers fall. The truth is that we have two choices – increase vaccinations or introduce restrictions. I do not believe we can endure another extended lockdown, it would be devastating for people, their mental health and for businesses and their staff. I also don't think it's fair to hundreds of thousands of people who have followed the public health advice, received their vaccinations and are doing their best to keep our communities safe.

"I have written to the joint First Ministers today outlining my strong view that given the proportion of people currently in ICU who have not been vaccinated, that the Executive Office should now look to introduce Covid passes for hospitality and entertainment venues. The example from the South is that this will increase uptake of the vaccination programme, create safe indoor spaces for those who have committed to keep each other safe by getting their vaccine and it will provide comfort to those working in the hospitality or retail sectors that they will not be put at risk in the interests of driving profits.

"Our first priority must be keeping people safe and reducing pressure on our health service. I believe the Executive Office must adopt a new approach before we experience overwhelming winter pressures. The SDLP is prepared to take difficult decisions in order to prioritise the health and wellbeing of people and communities across Northern Ireland."

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