Coronavirus: Business closures and restrictions in Northern Ireland
Andrew Crook - NFFF President
April 12, 2021

Health protection measures to help reduce the rate of transmission of COVID-19 place restrictions on businesses and services 

The current regulations will be reviewed on 15 April 2021.

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.

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.

All business and venues that are in operation should follow guidelines on working safely.


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

Businesses providing take-away services must close at 23:00 and off-sales must stop at 20:00. Outdoor areas are not permitted to be used.

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


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 for 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 Health Protection 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.

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, or on behalf of emergency services and Health Trusts) are not permitted to operate.

A full list of businesses and exemptions are defined in the Health Protection 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
  • and sports massage and therapeutic services for elite athletes


Only essential retail is permitted to remain open.

Contactless click/ phone and collect is permitted for all non-essential retail businesses. Read more on providing contactless click-and-collect services.

Outdoor retail can open for the following businesses:

  • car retailers
  • retailers of light motor vehicles, lorries or trailers
  • retailers of caravans or motorhomes
  • retailers of agricultural or other large machinery
  • garden centres and plant nurseries
  • car washes

See guide to providing outdoor retail services.

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 
  • newsagents
  • off licences
  • pharmacies
  • 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
  • livestock markets
  • motor vehicle repair shops
  • banks
  • building societies 
  • credit unions
  • post offices
  • funeral directors
  • laundrettes
  • dry cleaners
  • dental services
  • opticians
  • audiology services
  • chiropody
  • chiropractors
  • osteopaths and other medical or health services
  • veterinary surgeons
  • dog groomers
  • pet shops
  • telecommunications and IT repair and maintenance

The full list of businesses that are permitted to remain open is defined in the Health Protection Regulations.

Off-licences and supermarkets are not permitted to sell alcohol after 20:00.

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 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.


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.


Up to 10 people (including children of all ages) from a maximum of two households can take part in outdoor 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, the 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 Health Protection 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 for schools, pre-schools and other education providers is permitted to continue.

Guidance and restrictions for businesses which may open

Shops and enclosed shopping centres (see list of essential retail businesses above) must take reasonable measures to ensure compliance with social distancing rules.

These measures include:

  • providing information on how to minimise the risk of exposure to and the spread of coronavirus
  • ensure anyone within your venue maintains a distance of two metres from others (unless members of the same or a linked household) by altering the layout if necessary
  • ensure anyone queueing to enter maintains a distance of two metres from each other (unless members of the same or a linked household)
  • regularly cleaning, maintaining hygiene in your venue and regularly sanitising points of frequent use (eg entry barriers, card terminals)

Where it is not reasonably practicable for a social distance of two metres to be maintained, businesses must take reasonable steps to ensure that:

  • any close face to face contact is limited between persons
  • barriers or screens are installed and maintained
  • personal protective equipment is used where appropriate and in such a case is made readily available

Face coverings

The use of face coverings is required in certain indoor settings across Northern Ireland. This includes shops, shopping centres, public, private transport services, taxis, airplanes, public transport stations and airports and banks and some government offices. Read further guidance on face coverings.

Workplace safety

For guidance and practical steps on keeping your workplace COVID-19 secure, see working safely in different business settings and workplace safety guidelines and social distancing.

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