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.

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Regulations

The current regulations will be reviewed on 13 May 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:

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.

Indicative date

An indicative date of 24 May has been set to allow the mixing of households in private dwellings. This will be subject to review.

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 15 people (including children) from no more than three 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 in private homes are not permitted, unless it is in the house of a member of your bubble.

You can stay overnight in self-contained accommodation with your household or bubble. You must not stay overnight with anyone not in your household or bubble, unless a legal exemption applies.

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.

Advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people is available at:

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

Hospitals and healthcare

Visits

A phased approach to increasing the visitors to hospitals has been introduced in the latest guidance, applicable from 7 May.

In the initial period, visiting will be facilitated as follows, within COVID secure environments.

General hospitals

One daily visit from one of two nominated individuals (from up to two households) can be permitted, with the timing/ duration agreed with the person in charge.

Maternity

A chosen birth partner will be facilitated to accompany the pregnant woman to any pregnancy related appointments or ultrasound scans, and to accompany the pregnant woman for induction of labour, duration of labour and birth and, for up to three hours after the birth. 

Where the woman is receiving inpatient care, one daily visit from one of two nominated individuals (from up to two households) can be permitted.

Hospice care

One daily visit from two nominated individuals can be permitted at the same time.

Progression along the pathway will be as fast as possible while fully taking into account the risks in specific areas and will be monitored by the Trusts, the Public Health Agency and the Department of Health.

The guidance document ‘a pathway to enhanced visiting’ is available at:

As well as reading the full guidance, also check with individual hospitals/ wards before you visit, as restrictions are subject to change depending on prevailing circumstances in particular settings.

Health services

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

The most recent guidance ‘visiting with care – a pathway’ is intended to facilitate increased visiting in all health and social care settings, effective from 7 May 2021.  

In the initial period, visiting will be facilitated as follows:

  • increased number of visits per week to two; to be reviewed two weeks post implementation with a view to increasing to three
  • children can visit so long as they adhere to all required IPC measures
  • visits limited to two people at one time and lasting up to one hour
  • residents may resume trips out of the home (following the general restrictions applicable to the general public)

Progression along the pathway will be as fast as possible while fully taking into account the risks in specific areas and will be monitored by the Public Health Agency and the Department of Health.

You are recommended to read the full guidance document, available at the link below and check the applicable arrangements with the individual care home.

Hospitality and accommodation

Accommodation

Overnight stays are permitted in self-contained tourism accommodation (such as self-catering houses, caravans and motor homes). This includes any accommodation which does not require guests to share washing facilities, toilets or kitchens.

You can only share holiday accommodation with the people you live with in your household, and people in your bubble.

Hotel, guesthouses, bed and breakfast establishments and hostels 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

Hospitality

Outdoor areas at hospitality venues (cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs, social clubs, including in members’ clubs) are permitted to open.

There are no longer any additional restrictions in place on takeaway businesses.

A maximum of six people from two households can be seated together. 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.

Apart from entering and leaving the premises, the only movement allowed indoors is to access toilet facilities, to select food from a buffet or to pay – 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 each visitor over the age of 16
  • date and time of arrival

Indicative date

An indicative date of 24 May has been set for the reopening of indoor hospitality venues and all tourism accommodation. This will be subject to review.

Entertainment, leisure activities and cultural attractions

Outdoor visitor attractions, activity centres, 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 open.

This includes drive-in cinemas and performances. When going to these events, you must not share your vehicle with anyone outside your household or bubble.

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.

Indoor visitor and cultural attractions

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

Indicative date

An indicative date of 24 May has been set for the reopening of indoor visitor and cultural attractions, such as museums, galleries, cinemas and bingo halls. This will be subject to review. Music venues are not included in this indicative date.

Business

Anyone who can work from home should 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

All retail can open.

Shops must take all reasonable measures to manage risk, including ensuring measures are in place to maintain physical distancing.

You must wear a face covering when you go to any retail premises, including any indoor area of a shopping centre, unless exempt.

Information on how to stay safe when shopping is available at:

There are no longer any additional restrictions in place on alcohol sales, normal licencing laws now apply. 

Close contact services (including those provided from a mobile setting) are permitted to open strictly by appointment.

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

Driving instruction, theory tests and driving tests can also resume.

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

Gyms, swimming pools and indoor leisure facilities may open for individual exercise and also one-to-one training/ coaching with social distancing.

Up to 10 people (including children of all ages) from a maximum of two households can take part in unstructured outdoor exercise or sports activities. This might include football in the park or other leisure type activities.

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

Sports preparing for team competition may merge a small number of training groups to form a training squad but this squad size must be kept to the minimum number essential for this purpose.

Competitive outdoor sport can be organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated, with numbers (including participants, officials, management and essential support personnel) not exceeding 100 and no spectators permitted.

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.  

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(external link opens in a new window / tab).

Indicative date

An indicative date of 24 May has been set for the return of indoor group exercise and training (numbers informed by venue). This will be subject to review.

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.

Further guidance is available at:

Indicative date

An indicative date of 24 May has been set for the resumption of post ceremony receptions or functions (numbers to be informed by a risk assessment for the venue).  This will be subject to review.

Funerals

Funeral services are not permitted at private dwellings.

The number permitted to attend funerals in places of worship, funeral homes, the City of Belfast Crematorium or at a burial ground is to be informed by a risk assessment for the venue.

Where the death is not COVID-19 related, the remains of the deceased may be taken back to private homes and existing restrictions on household apply.

A person responsible for organising or operating a funeral or associated event elsewhere must comply with guidance on managing funerals and associated gatherings(external link opens in a new window / tab) issued by the Department of Health.

For information about the City of Belfast Crematorium, visit the Belfast City Council website(external link opens in a new window / tab).

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.

Indicative date

An indicative date of 24 May has been set for the resumption of post-funeral gatherings (numbers to be informed by a risk assessment for the venue). This will be subject to review.

Regulations

The current regulations will be reviewed on 13 May 2021.

The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:

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