Coronavirus (COVID-19) regulations guidance: what the restrictions mean for you

Following an increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, additional restrictions have been introduced for people living in Northern Ireland. These new restrictions have been put in place to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and to help manage the pressures on our health and social care system. This page will be updated with detailed information as it becomes available.

Regulations

The regulations were introduced on 16 October 2020 and will be in place for four weeks.

The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:

Some of the restrictions will be in law through regulation, while others will be in guidance. 

Everyone is legally required to comply with the regulations.

Everyone has their part to play in stopping the spread of the virus in the community by:

  • limiting contact with others
  • regular hand washing
  • wearing of face coverings

and

  • good social distancing

If you display any coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, self-isolate straight away and book a test.

What the new restrictions mean

The restrictions apply to everyone living in Northern Ireland.

A summary guide outlining the restrictions is available to download at this link:

Households

Households are not allowed to mix indoors in private homes. Certain exemptions apply, including:

  • bubbling with one other household
  • childcare
  • building or maintenance work
  • the services of trades or professions (close contact services are not allowed)
  • providing care or assistance, including social services, to a vulnerable person
  • giving or receiving legal advice or assistance or fulfilling a legal obligation
  • providing emergency or medical assistance to any person
  • a house move, and to do associated activities for that purpose, including viewing properties and making arrangements for removals
  • a marriage or civil partnership where one of the couple is terminally ill

Children whose parents do not live in the same household can move between homes as normal.

Gardens

Up to six people from no more than two households can meet up outdoors in a private garden, but you should maintain social distancing. Children aged 12 and under are not counted in this total.

Household bubbles

You can form one bubble with one other household.

A bubble can be formed between two households of any size.

Indoor meetings between households in the bubble are limited to a maximum of 10 people, including children, at any one time.

To contain the risk of spreading the virus, a household cannot be part of more than one bubble. Therefore, members of the two households within a bubble will not be permitted to have close contact with visitors from a third household. They should maintain social distancing from people outside of their bubble.

If anyone within your bubble develops symptoms, all members of the bubble should self-isolate. Particular care needs to be taken if any member is regarded as a vulnerable person in terms of the virus, which may include the elderly or those with other health conditions.

If a household wishes to change the household that they bubble with, the household must wait 14 days from the last visit of the original linked household before starting a new bubble with another household.

Overnight stays

An overnight stay in a private home is not allowed unless it is a member of your bubble.

Exemptions, including for emergency reasons, are detailed in the regulations.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings (excluding private dwellings, weddings and funerals)

Up to 15 people can meet outdoors, but you should maintain social distancing by being at least two metres apart, as well as good hand and respiratory hygiene practices.

Up to 15 people can meet indoors, except in someone’s home or in a static caravan or self-catering holiday home.

You may not organise, operate or participate in an indoor or outdoor gathering which consists of more than 15 people.

The following exemptions apply:

  • a gathering in a workplace, if it is not possible to work at home
  • a gathering to provide emergency or medical assistance to any person
  • a gathering in a place of worship for a religious activity
  • elite sports

Medically-vulnerable and older people

Medically-vulnerable and older people are asked to be particularly careful in following the advice on limiting household contacts, social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering.

Travel

You should avoid all unnecessary travel.

Where travel is necessary for work, education and other essential purposes, people are asked to walk, cycle or use private transport, shared only with members of their household where possible.

The use of face coverings is mandatory on public transport, in taxis, private buses, coaches and on aircraft, in train and bus stations and in airports. This includes:

  • boarding any mode of public transport
  • when on board any mode of public transport

and

  •  when present on public transport premises or stops

Childcare

Childcare can continue to be provided by a person registered in accordance with the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 or any childcare provided free of charge. 

Informal childcare arrangements are also permitted to continue.

Education settings

Schools and other education settings will have an extended half-term holiday break from 19 to 30 October 2020.

Schools will be closed to all pupils during these two weeks, including vulnerable children and for children of key workers.

Schools and other education settings will reopen on Monday 2 November 2020. 

Direct payments will be made to pupils in receipt of free school meals during the week of 19 October.

Further and Higher Education institutions should deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible. Only essential face-to-face learning should take place when it is a necessary and unavoidable part of the course.

Hospital visits

Hospital visits are currently restricted. Certain exceptions include:

  • a birth partner supporting a woman during certain hospital visits
  • for a person receiving end-of-life (palliative) care
  • to accompany a baby/ child (paediatrics/ neonatal) in hospital
  • for patients with dementia or a learning disability

You are recommended to check before you visit, as these exceptions are subject to change depending on prevailing circumstances in particular settings.

Care home visits

Care home visits are recommended to be restricted, with the exception of palliative care facilities and those who are receiving end of life care.

You are recommended to check arrangements with the care home.

Hospitality and accommodation

Bars, restaurants, coffee shops

Hospitality venues can only remain open for takeaway and delivery of food and non-alcoholic drinks. 

Businesses providing takeaway services must close at 11.00 pm.

Hotels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfasts

Hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments will only be able to operate on a restricted basis. Accommodation can be provided for those already resident; for work-related purposes; for vulnerable people; for those in emergency situations; and people unable to return to their main address. Hotels can continue to host blood donation sessions.

Food and non-alcoholic drinks can be provided to residents staying for permitted purposes, but bars will be required to close.

Self-catering accommodation

Self-catering and rented accommodation can remain open, however only members of one household or bubble are permitted to stay together.

Campsites and caravan parks

Access to static caravans remains open, however campsites and services for touring caravans must close. Services can be provided in emergency situations.

Leisure activities and cultural attractions

Indoor museums, galleries, visitor and other cultural attractions are not permitted to open.

Bingo halls, cinemas, inflatable parks, trampoline parks, amusement arcades, skating rinks and funfairs are not permitted to open. 

A full list of businesses is defined in the regulations.

Other indoor activities such as ten-pin bowling are not allowed.

Outdoor attractions, country parks and forest parks can remain open.

Community halls are allowed to remain open.

Libraries are allowed to provide 'call and collect' services, and access to the internet. 

Theatres and concert halls are permitted to open for rehearsals or a live recording without an audience.

Cookery schools can remain open, subject to risk-assessments and with appropriate safety measures in place.

Soft play areas for children can remain open, subject to risk-assessments and with appropriate safety measures in place. Any associated hospitality provision must remain closed, unless operating for takeaway services.

Business

Individuals should work from home unless unable to do so.

Retail and services

Close contact services

Close contact services, such as hairdressers, beauticians, make-up and nails, tattoo and piercing parlours, tanning shops, sports and massage therapy (except for elite athletes), electrolysis, well-being and holistic treatments, dress fitting, tailoring and fashion design (unless social distance is maintained), and driving instructors (exempt for motorcycle instruction) are not permitted to operate.

A full list of businesses and exceptions is defined in the regulations.

This also applies to those who provide mobile services in their homes and mobile close contact in other people’s homes, delivering the close contact services detailed above in allied sectors such as the arts or entertainment, those in retail environments, as well as those studying hair and beauty in vocational training environments.

There is no restriction on close contact services relating to essential health needs, as defined in the regulations,  such as, dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatry and other medical services, including services relating to mental health.

Retail

The retail sector remains open at this time.

Off-licences and supermarkets are not permitted to sell alcohol after 8.00 pm.

It is mandatory to wear a face covering when shopping or in a shopping centre. 

As well as ordinary day-to-day shopping for items such as clothes, food or electrical goods, a face covering is required in any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent. 

This includes, for example, a bookmakers, a bank, a food takeaway business, or a dry cleaner.

People who work in relevant places must also wear a face covering, unless they are separated from members of the public by a partition. This includes, for example, someone stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Financial support for impacted businesses

Financial support is available for businesses that have been required to close, or have had business activities at their premises directly curtailed by current health protection regulations.

Eligible businesses will receive the following amounts for every week these restrictions apply:  

  • Small businesses (up to £15,000 Net Annual Value) – £800
  • Medium businesses (£15,001 - £51,000 Net Annual Value) – £1,200  
  • Large businesses (over £51,000 Net Annual Value) – £1,600

Full details on eligibility and how to apply be found on the nibusinessinfo website

Work and services carried out in private homes

Workers, builders, tradespeople and other professionals can continue to go into people’s houses to carry out work such as repairs, installations and deliveries. 

Music lessons and private tutoring are permitted, as long as social distancing is maintained and there is no close contact.

Businesses/ individuals providing close contact services in a private dwelling are not permitted to operate.

Sports

Indoor sport and outdoor organised contact sport involving household mixing is not permitted, other than at elite level.

The definition of an elite athlete is set out in the regulations.

Elite training and competition can continue, both indoors and outdoors.

Gyms, leisure centres, swimming pools and private sports clubs may remain open for individual training only.

Fitness, exercise and dance classes are not permitted.

While individual swimming is permitted, swimming in a club setting is not allowed.

Personal one-to-one training is allowed, subject to no contact.

Outdoor non-contact sport is permitted at non-elite level, with a limit of 15 people. Public health advice should be followed.

Religious services

Places of worship can remain open.  Religious activities can continue to take place in line with relevant guidance.

There is no restriction on numbers attending religious activities, but a limit of 15 otherwise applies in places of worship (25 for weddings and funerals).

It is mandatory to wear face coverings when entering and exiting the building. This does not apply to a couple who are at a ceremony to solemnise their marriage or to form their civil partnership.  Face covering exemptions also apply.

Social distancing and appropriate protective measures are of vital importance.

Marriages and civil partnerships

From Monday 19 October 2020, marriages and civil partnerships ceremonies are limited to 25 people. This number includes children under 12 and the celebrant.

Receptions or post ceremony gatherings are not permitted.

Funerals

Funerals are limited to 25 people.

Pre and post-funeral gatherings are not permitted.

The remains of the deceased may be taken back to private homes, but wakes are not to be held and funeral services in private homes are not to take place.

Existing restrictions on households apply.

A person responsible for organising or operating a funeral or associated event elsewhere must comply with the guidance on funerals issued by the Department of Health.

For information about the City of Belfast Crematorium, visit the Belfast City Council website.

Any mourner displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend a funeral, as they pose a risk to others.

The Public Health Agency has produced a number of useful documents to help bereaved families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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