New restrictions introduced to combat spread of virus

SWEEPING new powers will come into force across Northern Ireland tonight at 11pm to combat the spread of Coronavirus.

The Executive has agreed to adopt the powers in response to the serious and imminent threat to public health posed by Covid-19.

The powers compel the closure of certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home without a reasonable excuse.


Gatherings of more than two people are also banned.

Penalties ranging from fixed penalty notices to fines of up to £5,000 are being introduced to enforce the new powers under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.

The Executive has also agreed that:

  • Anyone who can work from home must work from home;

  • Employers must facilitate working from home where it is feasible;

  • No employer should compel an employee to come to work if it is feasible to work from home;

  • Every employer must 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;

  • Every employer must have particular regard to the safety of employees in the workplace and must put into effect the guidance on social distancing issued by the Department for the Economy;

  • Every employer has a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees;

  • Where a business is failing to observe the Department for the Economy guidance and breaching the legal duty on health and safety, the statutory authorities will take robust action, which may include prosecution for criminal offences;

  • Where necessary, The Executive Office will also use its power of direction to close or restrict businesses that do not ensure the safety of their employees.

The regulations bring into force restrictions on movement. These include that no-one may leave their home without reasonable excuse.

A reasonable excuse includes the need:

  • to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies;

  • to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;

  • to seek medical assistance;

  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;

  • to donate blood;

  • to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

  • to attend a funeral of a family member.

Restrictions on gatherings

No person may participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people except:

  • where all the persons in the gathering are members of the same household,

  • where the gathering is essential for work purposes,

  • to attend a funeral,

The regulations list the types of business which will have to close and the types that will have to change their practices if they are to continue trading.

They do not impact directly on manufacturing or most of the service sector.

Under the regulations, the following businesses are subject to restrictions or closure:

  • Restaurants, including restaurants and dining rooms in hotels or members’ clubs.

  • Cafes, including workplace canteens, but not including:

    (a) cafes or canteens at a hospital, care home or school

  • (b) canteens at a prison or an establishment intended for use for naval, military or air force purposes or for the purposes of the Department of the Secretary of State responsible for defence;
    (c) services providing food or drink to the homeless.

    Workplace canteens may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food.

  • Bars, including bars in hotels or members’ clubs.

  • Public houses.

  • Cinemas.

  • Theatres.

  • Nightclubs.

  • Bingo halls.

  • Concert halls.

  • Museums and galleries.

  • Casinos.

  • Betting shops.

  • Spas.

  • Nail, beauty, hair salons and barbers.

  • Massage parlours.

  • Tattoo and piercing parlours.

  • Skating rinks.

  • Indoor fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools, bowling alleys, amusement arcades or soft play areas or other indoor leisure centres or facilities.

  • Funfairs (whether outdoors or indoors),

  • Playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms.

  • Outdoor markets (except for stalls selling food).

  • Car showrooms.

  • Auction houses

The following types of businesses can continue to operate but are under a legal duty to adopt social distancing measures.

This does not mean that these are the only types of businesses that may remain open:

  • Food retailers, including food markets, supermarkets, convenience stores and corner shops.

  • Off licences and licensed shops selling alcohol (including breweries).

  • Pharmacies (including non-dispensing pharmacies) and chemists.

  • Newsagents.

  • Homeware, building supplies and hardware stores.

  • Petrol stations.

  • Car repair and MOT services.

  • Bicycle shops.

  • Taxi or vehicle hire businesses.

  • Banks, building societies, credit unions, short term loan providers and cash points.

  • Post offices.

  • Funeral directors.

  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners.

  • Dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services, including services relating to mental health.

  • Veterinary surgeons and pet shops.

  • Agricultural supplies shop.

  • Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop off or collection points, where the facilities are in the premises of a business included in this Part.

  • Car parks.

  • Public toilets.

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