He has written to First Ministers Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill today proposing a significant change to the Executive’s approach to the vaccination programme and managing the COVID-19 response as we enter a difficult winter period.
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.
"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," said Mr. Eastwood.
“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 Foyle MP said the experience in the South has been that mandating passes for pubs, clubs and restaurants had boosted vaccine uptake. He said it would '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'.
He said: “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."