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.

Key points

The single most important action we can all take to fight coronavirus, to save lives, and to help our Health and Social Care system cope with current pressures is to stay at home.

There should be no household gatherings, other than those involving support bubbles.

You should work from home if at all possible. Only leave for essential purposes such as education, healthcare needs, to care for others, or outdoor exercise.

When we reduce our day-to-day contact with other people, we reduce the spread of the infection.

Regulations

The following restrictions will apply from 00:01 am on 27 November 2020 until 23:59 on 10 December.

The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:

A guide to frequently asked questions is available at this link:

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 restrictions mean

The restrictions apply to everyone living in Northern Ireland.

A summary guide outlining the restrictions is available 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.

The two households in the bubble can be of any size, however 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.

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
  • elite sports (not spectators)

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.

Face coverings

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

Travelling to outdoor spaces

Spending time outdoors is good for your physical and mental health. Physical activities, such as walking, running, cycling, horse riding, or just walking the dog, bring many health benefits. 

When using outdoor spaces, you should follow the rules and social distancing guidelines.

To stay safe, you should:

  • take hygiene precautions when you are outside        
  • wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors      
  • keep at least 2 metres apart from anyone outside your household or bubble where possible        
  • take hand sanitiser with you in case there are no handwashing facilities   
  • take all of your litter home    
  • wear a face covering when shopping or when using public transport to travel
  • do not leave your house if you have any COVID-19 symptoms or if you are self-isolating

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.

Hospitals

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.

Hospitals, GP practices and pharmacies continue to provide care for those with health needs.

You should continue to seek advice from health and care professionals such as GPs, nurses and pharmacists. Ignoring potential health problems or symptoms can have serious consequences so it is vitally important that you do not delay in seeking help.

Care homes

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

Hospitality venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs must remain closed; with the exception of providing food and drink for takeaway, drive-through or delivery.

Businesses providing takeaway services must close at 11.00 pm and off-sales must stop at 8.00 pm.

The provision of food and drink in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals is allowed.

Accommodation

Hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfast establishments, hostels and caravan sites and self-catering accommodation 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.

Entertainment, leisure activities and cultural attractions

Leisure and entertainment venues such as theatres, concert halls, cinemas, amusement arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, inflatable parks, go-karting venues, soft play centres, fairgrounds and funfairs, indoor museums, galleries, visitor and other cultural attractions are not permitted to open.

Outdoor visitor attractions will also be closed for the duration of the two-week period. Drive-in events are not permitted.

A full list of businesses is defined in the regulations

Outdoor parks, play areas, outdoor areas of properties operated by the National Trust and the outdoor areas of stately homes, historic homes and castles are permitted to remain open.

Community halls are allowed to remain open, but must adhere to current guidelines.

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.

Business

Individuals should work from home unless unable to do so. Those who cannot work from home, for example, workers in food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics or distribution can continue to go to work.

Retail and services

To reduce social contact, the regulations require some businesses to close and impose restrictions on how some businesses provide goods and services.

Close contact services

Close contact services, such as hairdressers, beauticians, make-up and nails, tattoo and piercing parlours, tanning shops, massage, electrolysis, well-being and holistic treatments, and driving instructors (except for motorcycles) are not permitted to operate.

A full list of businesses and exemptions are defined in the regulations.

This also applies to those who provide mobile close contact services from their homes and in other people’s homes, those in retail environments, as well as those studying hair and beauty in vocational training environments.

Exemptions apply for film and TV production; for services ancillary to medical, health and social care services; and sports massage therapy. 

Retail

Closure of all retail businesses except for essential retail. Click/phone and collect facilities will be permitted to operate by non-essential retail businesses on an appointment-only basis, outside the building and with maximum mitigations in place.

Retail premises can only remain open if the business is wholly or mainly an essential retail business. To be permitted to open, the essential retail part of the business must constitute 50 per cent or more of the floor space of the retail premises. Where an essential retail business has another, separate business embedded within it that is required to close, the embedded business must close.

An essential retail business may also continue to sell goods typically sold by non-essential retail businesses. For example, a supermarket that sells food is not required to close off or cordon off aisles selling accessories.

Essential retail businesses include, but are not limited to:

  • food retailers, supermarkets, convenience stores and off licences
  • pharmacies and chemists
  • newsagents
  • homeware stores (goods to furnish and equip the home), building supplies and hardware stores
  • bicycle shops
  • pet shops
  • agricultural supplies shops
  • garden centres and ornamental plant nurseries (including Christmas trees)
  • livestock markets
  • motor vehicle repair shops
  • banks; building societies
  • credit unions
  • post offices
  • funeral directors
  • laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services
  • veterinary surgeons

The full list of retail businesses that are permitted to remain open is defined in the regulations.

Off-licences and supermarkets are not permitted to sell alcohol after 8.00 pm. It is mandatory to wear a face covering when shopping. 

An essential retail business may be operated from a market stall, and may continue to trade as such. Car boot sales are not permitted.

Car dealers are permitted to remain open for collection purposes, on an appointment-only basis with maximum mitigations in place (persons are not permitted inside the premises).

Work carried out in private homes and other services

Unless they are specifically required to close under the regulations, 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.

Estate agents are permitted to remain open to facilitate the buying and selling of property, including associated activities such as the viewing of properties.

Household waste and recycling centres are permitted to remain open.

Sports

Indoor and outdoor sport is not permitted, other than at elite level.

Elite training and competition can continue, both indoors and outdoors. Elite sporting events must be held behind closed doors without spectators.

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

All sports facilities such as leisure centres, gyms, health clubs, swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses, fitness and dance studios must close. Other exercise facilities including activity centres, equestrian centres (access for the purpose of animal welfare is permitted), marinas, and venues relating to motor sport and water sport must also remain closed.

Only individual or household outdoor exercise is permitted. Physical activity such as walking, running, cycling, horse riding, or just walking the dog, bring many health benefits. You cannot participate in personal one-to-one training sessions or group activities such as running or cycling.

Physical education delivered by or for schools, pre-schools and other education providers is permitted to continue.

Religious services

Places of worship must close, except for funerals and weddings (limited to 25 people).

Buildings may also open for individual acts of worship or for the recording or broadcasting of an act of worship. Drive-in services will be permitted for the two-week period (persons attending must remain in their vehicle).

Marriages and civil partnerships

From Friday 27 November, marriage and civil partnership ceremonies cannot take place at any venue that is licensed to sell alcohol, provides accommodation or is currently prevented from opening under the current restrictions. 

Marriages and civil partnerships can still take place at registration offices, places of worship or a venue permitted to open under the restrictions.  Ceremonies are limited to 25 people. This number includes the couple, witnesses, officiants and all guests (including children under 12).

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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