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

The following restrictions are in place in Northern Ireland to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and to help manage the pressures on the health and social care system. During this time, the single most important action we can all take is to follow the public health advice.

Regulations

The current regulations will be reviewed on 15 April 2021.

The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:

Some of the restrictions are law through regulation, while others are guidance. 

Everyone is legally required to comply with the regulations.

If you fail to comply with the regulations without reasonable excuse, you are committing an offence. For some offences you may be given a fixed penalty or a fine on summary prosecution.

What the restrictions mean

The restrictions apply to everyone in Northern Ireland. Guidance is available at:

A question and answer section on the restrictions is available on the Executive's website:

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.

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.

If your household is in a bubble, you're not permitted to have close contact with visitors from a third household. You should maintain social distancing from people outside of your 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 of your bubble is regarded as a vulnerable person in terms of the virus, which may include someone who is medically vulnerable.

If a household wishes to change the household that they bubble with, the household must wait 10 days from the last visit of the original linked household before starting a new bubble with another household.

Gardens

Up to 10 people (including children) from no more than two households can meet up outdoors in a private garden, but you should maintain social distancing.

If there’s no alternative route, access to the garden can be via a private dwelling.

Overnight stays

Overnight stays away from your home are not permitted.

This includes in private homes unless it is in the house of 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 10 people (including children of all ages) from a maximum of two households can meet outdoors, and up to six people from a maximum of two households can meet in non-domestic indoor settings, for a permitted reason.

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 take part in an indoor gathering which consists of more than six people, or outdoor gathering which consists of more than 10 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
  • blood donation and vaccine sessions
  • 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.

A graduated easing of the advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people commenced on 12 April.

Travel

To help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading you should stay in your local area. If you go somewhere and there are crowds which will make social distancing difficult, consider going somewhere else instead.

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

Guidance for travelling both internationally and within the Common Travel Area during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at:

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 unless an exemption applies. 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

From 12 April, pupils in all year groups returned to school.

Further and Higher Education institutions should deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible.

Hospitals and healthcare

Hospital visits are currently subject to restrictions related to the current Alert Level (Level 4) which in most cases limits visits to one person for up to one hour once a week, with the exception of :

  • a birth partner supporting a woman during certain hospital visits (see full guidance for details)
  • a person receiving end-of-life (palliative) care
  • accompanying a baby/ child (paediatrics/ neonatal) in hospital
  • patients with dementia, a learning disability or other communication issues (see full guidance for details)

You are recommended to read the guidance below, but also to check with individual hospitals/ wards before you visit, as restrictions are subject to change depending on prevailing circumstances in particular settings.

Hospitals, GP practices, dentists 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

Visits to care homes are also restricted.

You are recommended to read guidance below, and check the applicable arrangements with the individual 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. Outdoor areas are not permitted to be used.

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 are only able to operate on a restricted basis.

Accommodation can be provided for:

  • those already resident
  • work-related purposes
  • vulnerable people
  • those in emergency situations
  • 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 are not permitted to open, along with drive-in events.

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. 

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

Business

Anyone who can work from home must work from home.

Those who cannot work from home, for example, workers in food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics or distribution can continue to go to work.

Employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home.

They must also take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of employees during the COVID-19 emergency, whether working from home or in the workplace.

Employers that require staff to come into the workplace must complete a mandatory risk assessment.

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
  • services ancillary to medical, health and social care services
  • sports massage and therapeutic services for elite athletes

Retail

Only essential retail is permitted to remain open.

Contactless click/ phone and collect is permitted for non-essential retail businesses.

Outdoor retail, such as car washes; car, vehicle and caravan retailers; garden centres and plant nurseries is permitted to open.

Premises permitted to open

Retail premises can only remain open if the business is wholly or mainly an essential retail business.

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, off licences and newsagents
  • pharmacies and chemists
  • fuel suppliers
  • building supplies and hardware stores (equipment for building maintenance and repairs - such as keys, locks, nuts, screws, washers, hinges, latches, handles, wire, chains, belts, plumbing supplies, electrical supplies, tools, and machine parts)
  • bicycle shops
  • agricultural supplies shops and livestock markets
  • motor vehicle repair shops
  • banks, building societies and 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, dog groomers and pet shops
  • telecommunications and IT repair and maintenance

The full list of 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.

An essential retail business may be operated from a market stall, and may continue to trade as such.

Car boot sales are not permitted.

Homeware stores must remain closed.

Work carried out in private homes

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.

Exercising and sports

Up to 10 people (including children of all ages) from a maximum of two households can take part in outdoor exercise or sports activities.

Up to 15 people (including coaches) can take part in structured outdoor sports training, through clubs or individuals affiliated to recognised sports governing bodies or representative organisations for sport and physical activity.

Outdoor sports facilities can re-open but only to permit their use for those allowed in the regulations. Club houses and indoor sports facilities (changing rooms, showers, kitchens, meeting rooms), apart from essential toilet facilities must stay closed.

The return to sport protocols put in place by sports governing bodies should be strictly adhered to including hygiene measures, social distancing and other mitigations.

Any behaviour which may encourage the risk of transmission around sports activities, such as car sharing, congregation of people on the side-lines and sporting celebrations, should be avoided. 

Sports governing bodies have a responsibility to ensure full compliance with the protocols and are expected to put arrangements in place to deal with non-compliant clubs, participants and coaches.  

Indoor 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.

Horse racing and other recognised equine sports, can take place behind closed doors, in line with the elite sport regulations and animal welfare considerations.

All indoor sports facilities such as leisure centres, gyms, health clubs, swimming pools, fitness and dance studios must remain closed.

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

Marriages and civil partnerships

The number permitted to attend weddings and civil partnerships is to be informed by a risk assessment for the venue. 

Face coverings must be worn by all unless exempt, other than those in the marriage party.

Receptions or post ceremony gatherings are not permitted.

Customers can also view the facilities of venues used for marriages and civil partnerships, such as hotels and other venues, restricted to a maximum of four customers per visit.

Funerals

The number permitted to attend funerals, is to be informed by a risk assessment for the venue.

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 guidance on managing funerals and associated gatherings 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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