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

Since 28 March 2020 various health protection regulations have been in place to help reduce the spread coronavirus and bring the epidemic to an end as soon as possible. This page explains what the current regulations and restrictions mean for you.

Regulations

The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:

Restrictions

The following restrictions for all households in Northern Ireland were introduced from 6.00 pm on 22 September 2020:

  • no mixing of households in private dwellings, with exemptions for:
    • bubbling with one other household
    • caring responsibilities, including childcare
    • building or maintenance work, or the services of any trade or profession
    • supported living arrangements
    • visits required for legal or medical purposes
    • a business operating from a person’s home
    • a funeral
    • a house move, and to undertake associated activities for that purpose, including viewing properties and making arrangements for removals
    • marriage or civil partnership ceremony in a private dwelling where one partner is terminally ill
  • no more than six people to gather in a private garden from no more than two households - children aged 12 and under from those two households are not counted in this total

Meeting indoors

Households are no longer allowed to mix indoors in private homes. This is because meeting friends and family indoors carries a higher risk than meeting outdoors.

You can form a bubble with one other household. These two households can be any size, however gatherings indoors should be no more than six people. Children aged 12 and under from those two households are not counted in this total.

Exemptions apply for those with caring responsibilities and you can continue to provide support for elderly relatives or dependents.

It is important that people who were previously shielding are particularly careful at this time.

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

Meeting outdoors in private 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.

If the gathering is with members of your bubble, then a maximum of 15 people from the two households can meet up outdoors in your garden. Children aged 12 and under from those two households are not counted in this total.

Social distancing is essential to prevent further waves of the epidemic.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings

You should avoid visiting places where there is a chance that large numbers of people will gather and crowds will form.

Gatherings indoors or outdoors, not in a private dwelling, of up to 15 people are permitted.

The limit for gathering indoors and outdoors does not apply where that gathering has a recognised person responsible for organising or operating the gathering and it is organised or operated for a particular nature,, including those organised:

  • for cultural, entertainment, recreational, outdoor sports, social, community, educational, work, legal, religious or political purposes 

or

  • for an indoor sporting event or activity, provided the arena in which it takes place is not capable of accommodating more than 5,000 spectators

The organiser must have carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 and take all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

A person responsible for organising or operating a gathering must, if requested to do so by a relevant person, provide to that relevant person:

  • a copy of the risk assessment

and

  • an account of the reasonable measures taken

as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any event within 24 hours of the request.

Medically-vulnerable and older people

Since 31 July 2020, shielding for extremely vulnerable people has been paused. Updated guidance for individuals who were shielding is available:

Given the rise in the levels of COVID-19, 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.

Pubs and other venues where alcohol may be consumed

Under the current regulations a maximum of six people from no more than two households can be seated at a table in a venue where alcohol may be consumed.

Children aged 12 and under are not counted in the total.

More than six will be permitted if they all belong to a single household.

When eating out in a venue where alcohol may be consumed, food and drink are only allowed to be consumed when individuals are seated at a table.

Apart from entering and leaving the premises, the only movement allowed is to access toilet facilities or to select food from a buffet - however, social distancing must be maintained.

Venues will also be required to collect customer details to help with the Test, Trace, Protect contact tracing programme.

Customer details will include the:

  • name and telephone number of one member of each household
  • date and time of arrival 

and

  • number of individuals from a person’s household visiting the premises at that time

In venues were alcohol is consumed the restrictions currently do not permit dancing, music for dancing, or live music. Certain exemptions apply.

The regulations (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (Amendment No. 5) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020) are available on the Department of Health website.

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. This includes informal childcare arrangements.

Work and services carried out in private homes

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

There is no limit to the length of time spent in a private dwelling, however all visits should be risk-assessed and be in line with relevant guidance. 

People who run a business from their own home can continue to carry out their work with appropriate safety measures in place. Any visits:

  • should only be for the purposes of the business activity

and

  • should be risk-assessed and in line with relevant guidance.

Education settings

Keeping schools open is a major priority and that is one of the reasons why restrictions have been introduced in other areas of life to help protect schools and keep them open.

Higher and further education, schools and early learning/ childcare settings are not affected by the current regulations.

Visits to hospitals and care homes

To protect patients, residents and staff from COVID-19, visits to health and social care facilities in Northern Ireland have been reduced.

One face-to-face visit per week by one person will be facilitated. This applies to hospital and care homes, as well as other facilities.

Health Trusts and care homes will implement more localised and tighter restrictions in the event of coronavirus outbreaks.

More frequent visits may be permitted in exceptional circumstances, including palliative care and those receiving end of life care. These arrangements will have to be agreed in advance with the ward or care home.

In hospices, one visitor for one hour daily is recommended where the environment is COVID-19 secure.

In maternity services, one partner will be able to accompany the pregnant woman to dating scan, anomaly scan, early pregnancy clinic, fetal medicine appointments and when the woman is in active labour (to be determined by midwife).

Visits in antenatal and postnatal wards will be for one person for up to one hour once a week.

In augmented care areas of burns, renal and cancer services, this should be permitted in COVID-19 secure environments. This means maintaining social distance of up to two metres, attending to hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene, good ventilation and appropriate use of PPE and wearing face covering.

Funerals

Funerals can continue to take place, in line with guidance on managing funerals and associated gatherings .

The size of the venue will determine the maximum number that can attend the service safely whilst observing social distancing of at least two metres, wherever possible.

A maximum of 10 people from four households are permitted inside a private dwelling at any one time for the purposes of a wake, viewing of the body, or paying their respects to the family.

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.

Marriages and civil partnerships

Marriages and civil partnerships can continue to take place, in line with the current restrictions.

A marriage or civil partnership where one partner is terminally ill can take place in a private dwelling. A maximum of 10 people can attend, not counting children aged 12 and under in that total.

Numbers attending indoor ceremonies and post-ceremony celebrations will be determined by the venue on a risk assessed basis, taking account of the individual circumstances of each and adhering to all relevant public health advice and industry guidance.

Guidance has been developed to help plan the celebrations and is available on the NI Executive website.

Places of worship

No changes have been made to the operation of places of worship.

Travel

Everyone is asked to be mindful of the risks of spreading the virus by travel and should use their judgement when deciding whether or not to undertake a journey based on the individual circumstances.

There is guidance to help you understand how to travel safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This includes when using public transport, walking, cycling and travelling by car:

Paid-for accommodation

When possible we should all limit contact with others, particularly indoors in any setting, and follow the relevant advice and regulations.

The regulations do not restrict hotel, guesthouse or self-catering accommodation stays.

Everyone is asked to be mindful of the risks of spreading coronavirus by travelling and also increased contact with individuals outside of your home or bubble.

Penalties

Action will be taken against those that break these rules, including asking people to disperse and issuing fixed penalty notices.

The current penalties are:

  • a fixed penalty notice of £60.00 (reduced to £30.00 if paid within 14 days)
  • for subsequent offences the fixed penalty will double each time up to a maximum of £960
  • if court proceedings are taken, the fine available on summary conviction is up to £5,000 (level five on the standard scale)

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