Beggs questions Economy Minister on good practice to minimise risk of Covid-19

East Antrim Ulster Unionist Assemblyman Roy Beggs MLA has questioned the Economy Minister on how to promote good practice to minimise the risk of the spread of Covid-19 and whether he agrees that in high-risk venues, COVID certificates or proof of a negative lateral flow test reduce the likelihood of the spread of COVID.

Speaking at Stormont, Mr Beggs asked the Minister for the Economy “to outline the role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in promoting good practice to minimise the risk of the spread of COVID-19.”

The Economy Minister replied; “Throughout the pandemic, the Health and Safety Executive has sought to utilise the information emanating from the Public Health Agency in a way that will assist employers to keep their staff safe and that will allow them to continue to function. That advice has been offered not only through face-to-face inspections but via email, telephone conversations, social media and regularly updated advice on the Health and Safety Executive’s website.

The Health and Safety Executive has no vires in areas such as leisure, retail or hospitality. Its role in ensuring that food production and processing, the transport and logistics sector and key manufacturing sites have been able to continue throughout the pandemic has been critical, however, and it has protected our economy while keeping people safe in the workplace. Since the start of the pandemic, the Health and Safety Executive has provided direction or advice during 1,736 COVID-related site visits.”

In his supplementary question, Roy Beggs MLA followed up by asking; “Minister, there have been some superspreading events, which have endangered staff and patrons. Over 200 young people contracted COVID at a disco in The Elk in Toomebridge and took it home to their families. Does the Minister accept that, in such high-risk venues, COVID certificates or proof of a negative lateral flow test reduce the likelihood of the spread of COVID and, ultimately, the pressures on our hospitals? What role does the Health and Safety Executive play in monitoring and enforcing the regulations?

The Economy Minister responded stating; “The Health and Safety Executive does not have any role in that. It does not have the legal powers or the people to enforce those regulations. That is not a way that we can enforce the regulations.

In relation to the Member’s first question, we have no evidence — certainly none has been provided to us — for how COVID vaccine certification would help to reduce transmission of the virus. I accept that negative lateral flow tests could be of some use, because they can tell you about a person’s immediate status. My concern about lateral flow tests, however, is that they are self-certified, so there is room for fraud.

The evidence that I have seen, from the University of Oxford and from ‘The Lancet’, in relation to vaccine passport certification shows that a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person are just as likely to transmit the virus. The strong evidence that we would need in order to say that vaccine passports will reduce the transmission of COVID-19 significantly, or in any way, is not there. That is why I have concerns about the passports and believe that it is wrong to introduce them.

There will be one big impact, which will be on our hospitality sector. We have heard about the number of bookings that have been cancelled, and we have heard about many people’s concerns. In particular, I have received concerns from the hospitality industry about the cost and implementation of such a scheme. That is where the difficulties have come from. A lot of people feel that they will need to deploy additional staff to bring those passports in.

Those are my concerns. It is certainly not a role for the Health and Safety Executive.”

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