Coronavirus (COVID-19) regulations guidance: what the restrictions mean for you December 2020

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Following the end of recent circuit breaker restrictions, new regulations have been put in place to control the spread coronavirus in Northern Ireland and to help manage the pressures on the health and social care system. This page explains what the current regulations and restrictions mean for you and your family.

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Regulations

The regulations will be introduced on 11 December and will be kept under review by the NI Executive.

The regulations will be available on the Department of Health website:

Between Wednesday 23 December and Sunday 27 December, there will be some temporary relaxations on social mixing. This will allow people from up to three households to form a Christmas bubble and one of the three households can include an existing bubble arrangement.

For more information on the rules in place over the festive period, see the Christmas guidance at this link:

Between Wednesday 23 December and Sunday 27 December, there will be some temporary relaxations on social mixing. This will allow people from up to three households to form a Christmas bubble and one of the three households can include an existing bubble arrangement.

For more information on the rules in place over the festive period, see the Christmas guidance 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 new restrictions mean

The restrictions apply to everyone in Northern Ireland.

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

A list of frequently asked questions is available on the NI Executive 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
  • 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

Between Wednesday 23 December and Sunday 27 December, there will be some temporary relaxations on household bubbles. For more information please see our Christmas guidance.

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.

Information on overnight stays between Wednesday 23 December and Sunday 27 December is available on the Christmas guidance page.

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.

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.

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

Indoor gatherings

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 gathering which consists of more than 15 people.

The following exemptions apply:

  • educational and training purposes
  • 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
  • weddings, civil partnerships and funerals
  • a blood donation or vaccination session

Outdoor gatherings

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.

The limit for outdoor gatherings does not apply to gatherings where that gathering has a recognised person responsible for organising or operating the gathering, however a maximum number limit of 500 applies.

An outdoor gathering can be organised or operated for a particular nature, including:

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

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.

Business

Individuals should work from home unless unable to do so.

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.

Retail and services

Close contact services

Close contact services, including driving instructors, are permitted to operate by appointment. Customer contact details must be recorded and retained for track and trace purposes.

Retail

The retail sector is open for business.

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

Hospitality and accommodation

Pubs and other licensed premises not serving food

Licensed premises, such as ‘wet bars’ or traditional non-food pubs that do not serve main meals, can only remain open to sell sealed off-sales. All off-sales must stop at 10.30 pm daily.

Restaurants, coffee shops and other venues serving food

Licensed premises that are permitted to open must close by 11.00 pm. Food and drink must not be sold, supplied, purchased or obtained after 10.30 pm. Premises with outdoor areas should encourage customers to use the outdoor space if possible.

A maximum of six people from no more than two households can be seated at a table. Children aged 12 and under will not be counted in the total. More than six will be permitted if they all belong to a single household.

In venues where alcohol is consumed, food and drink are only allowed to be consumed when individuals are seated at a table.

Unless it is not reasonably practicable, the individuals seated at a table must be two metres away from the next 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.

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

Customer details will include the:

  • name and telephone number of each person aged 16 years or above
  • date and time of arrival

and

  • number of individuals from each household visiting the premises at that time

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

Hotels and accommodation providers

Hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfast establishments and other accommodation providers are permitted to open in line with current guidance.

After 10.30 pm, alcoholic drinks can be taken by residents to their room, and residents can use a mini-bar, but alcohol cannot be delivered by room service.

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

Leisure activities and cultural attractions

Indoor and outdoor museums, galleries, visitor and other cultural attractions are permitted to open, subject to risk-assessments and with appropriate safety measures in place.

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

Sports

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

The definition of an elite athlete is set out in the regulations(external link opens in a new window / tab)

Outdoor exercise is permitted in groups of up to a maximum of 15.

Outdoor sports events and gatherings are permitted subject to a risk assessment if more than 15 are attending and measures are in place to limit risk of virus transmission, with an upper limit of 500 on participants. An upper limit of 500 spectators is permitted regardless of venue capacity.

As COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets, group indoor sports/ exercise activities that have high levels of exertion (that is those which cause participants to get out of breath) are not permitted at this time.

Gyms, swimming and diving pools can open for individual training and training with a personal trainer/ coach.

Indoor sport and exercise is limited to elite athletes, individual activity (including with a coach/ trainer, or carer), and non-contact activities of up to 15 people that do not cause an individual to get out of breath. Contact details must be taken.

Physical education delivered by or for schools, pre-schools and other education providers is permitted to continue, however inter-school sporting events are not permitted.

Sports Sustainability Fund

The Sports Sustainability Fund, administered by SportNI, is open to help those clubs and governing bodies who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This fund will close for completed applications at 3.00pm on 11 January 2021. For more information visit the SportNI website(external link opens in a new window / tab).

Places of worship

Places of worship are permitted to open in line with relevant guidance.

Numbers attending acts of worship will be determined by the risk assessment. A limit of 15 applies to other activities being held in a place of worship.

It is mandatory to wear face coverings inside the building and when entering and exiting. This does not apply to the person leading worship or 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.

Funerals

Funerals can continue to take place, in line with guidance on managing funerals and associated gatherings.(external link opens in a new window / tab)

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.

Funerals and associated gatherings can take place in a private dwelling and the numbers will be limited to 10 people from four households.  The limitations on gatherings in private dwellings do not otherwise apply to funerals but people must comply with the DoH guidance.

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.

Marriages and civil partnerships

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

Numbers attending 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.

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.

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:

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