Covid-19 measures 2021 - Questions and Answers

The Executive has introduced a package of necessary measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus in the community, to protect the health service and save lives.

The Regulations are in place until 1 April, but will be reviewed on 18 March.

Stay at home regulations

Do I need to stay at home?

Yes, everyone is required to stay at home unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave.

Is staying at home just advice, or do I have to adhere to this restriction?

Staying at home is a legal requirement, unless you have a reasonable excuse to leave the house.

Can I be made to go home?

Everyone is being asked to adhere to the rules to stop the spread of Coronavirus, protect the health service and save lives and are legally required to do so.

The PSNI have the enforcement powers to order individuals home if engaging in prohibited activity, or if they are intending to do so.

What is a reasonable excuse to leave home?

A list of reasonable excuses to leave home is set out in the Regulations.

Reasonable excuses include:

  • to get basic necessities, including food and medical supplies
  • to take exercise
  • to visit your bubble
  • to visit hospital, GP and other medical appointments
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance
  • to avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
  • to go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
  • to access education or childcare
  • to attend to the care and exercise of an animal
  • to donate blood
  • to attend a place of worship
  • to attend a funeral or wedding

Can I go out for essential purposes as often as I like?

There is no restriction on the number of times

you can leave home for an essential purpose, but everyone is asked to ensure they limit trips as much as possible.

Can I still go to work?

If you can work from home, you must do so.
If your work cannot be done from home you are permitted to go to work.

Homes and gardens

Bubbles (linked households)

Can I still bubble with another household?

Yes, you can form an exclusive bubble with one other household.

Is there a limit to the size of a two-household bubble?

The two households can be any size, but indoor meetings between households in the bubble are limited to a maximum of 10 people, including children, at any one time.

Can I be part of more than one bubble?

No, to contain the risk of spreading the virus, a household cannot be part of more than one bubble.

Can I change my bubble?

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.

What happens if someone in my bubble tests positive?

If anyone within your bubble develops symptoms of Coronavirus, all members of the bubble should self-isolate – even if they are part of a different household.

Can members of a bubble stay overnight in each other’s homes?

Yes, but only members of your bubble are permitted to stay in your house overnight, except for emergency reasons as set out in the regulations.


Mixing of households

Are visits allowed between homes?

No, you cannot have visitors to your home or visit anyone else’s.  Households are not allowed to mix indoors in private homes, except members of your bubble.

Some exemptions apply.

My parents don’t live together; can I still stay with them both?

Yes, children whose parents do not live in the same household can move between homes as normal.

Can I meet up with others in a private garden?

No. Households are not allowed to mix in private gardens, with the exception of two households that have formed an exclusive bubble with each other. A maximum of 10 people, including children, can be in a private garden at any one time (an exception applies for households of more than 10 people).

Can vulnerable adults, such as those with autism or a learning disability move between houses for respite care?

Yes, the restrictions on gatherings in homes has an exemption for ‘the provision of care or assistance, including social services, to a vulnerable person’.


Indoor and outdoor gatherings

Can I meet up with others outside homes and gardens?

Up to six people (including children of all ages) from a maximum of two households can meet outdoors, or 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 participate in an indoor or outdoor gathering which consists of more than six people.

Are there any exemptions to the maximum of six people gathering?

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
  • medical assistance to any personblood donation and vaccine sessions
  • elite sports (not spectators)

Hospitality and accommodation

What are the restrictions on hospitality venues?

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.

Until what time are food takeaway services permitted to remain open?

Businesses providing takeaway services must close by 11pm.

Are off-sales permitted?

Off-sales can continue but must stop by 8pm.

Are hotels open?

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 people unable to return to their main address.

Sport and exercise

Can sport continue?

Indoor and outdoor sport is not permitted, other than at elite level.

What are the rules for elite sports?

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

Elite sporting events must be held behind closed doors without spectators.

Can gyms and other sports and leisure facilities open?

All sports facilities such as leisure centres, gyms, health clubs, swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses, fitness and dance studios must close.

Can personal trainers provide training services?

No, you cannot participate in one-to-one or group training sessions.

Can I leave my house to exercise?

Yes, you can leave your home to exercise, but not for the purpose of recreation or leisure, such as a picnic or a social meeting.
You can exercise  in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your bubble
  • or, when on your own, with one person from another household

Leisure activities and cultural attractions

Are visitor attractions closed?


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.

Can outdoor attractions and drive-in entertainment events continue?

No. Outdoor visitor attractions and drive-in entertainment events are not permitted to operate.

Can community centres remain open?

Yes, but current restrictions and guidelines must be adhered to.

Are libraries open?

Libraries are permitted to provide ‘call and collect’ services and access to the internet.

Retail and services

What retail business are required to close?

All retail businesses are required to close, except for essential retail.

What is included in essential retail?

  • 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

What if a retail business has both essential and non-essential elements?

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.


Can essential retail businesses sell goods typically sold by non-essential retail businesses?


Can driving instructors keep working?

No, driving instructors (except for motorcycles) are not permitted to operate.

Are mobile hairdressers, beauticians allowed to operate?

No.  Close contact services such as hairdressers, beauticians, make-up and nails, tattoo and piercing parlours, tanning shops, massage, electrolysis, well-being and holistic treatments are not permitted to operate.

Can I go to the dentist?

Yes. There is no restriction on close contact services relating to essential health needs, as defined in the regulations, such as, dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatry and other medical services, including services relating to mental health.

Can goods continue to be delivered to people’s homes?

Yes, home deliveries can continue.

Can house viewings and house moves continue?

Yes, with mitigations in place.

Can dog groomers continue to operate?

Yes, dog groomers can continue to operate.

Are car washes open?

Car washes must close under current restrictions ‘except for the cleaning and disinfection of commercial vehicles for the purposes of food safety and controlling risks to human, animal or plant health.’

Can mental health support groups continue?

Yes, mental health support groups can continue.

Can AA meetings continue?

AA meetings are exempt from the gatherings restriction and can continue with appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures in place.

Can groups such as Slimming World or Weight Watchers continue?

No, at this time you can only gather for an essential purpose.


My work can’t be done from home – can I still go to work?

Yes, if your work cannot be done from home you may go to work.

Can workplaces remain open?


Unless required to close under the regulations, workplaces may remain open. But everyone should work from home, if at all possible.

Can those working in construction and manufacturing go to work?

Yes. Construction and manufacturing work can continue. All relevant public health guidance must be followed.

I can do my work from home, but my employer is insisting that I attend the workplace – is this ok?

Employers must make sure that staff who are able to work from home do work from home.


Will public transport continue to operate?

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

Public transport will still operate for essential purposes but will have a reduced service.

Can taxis continue to operate?

Taxis can operate for essential purposes. Face coverings must be worn by passengers. The driver must also wear a face covering unless there is a screen between them and their passenger.

Work and services carried out in private homes

Can businesses/tradespeople continue to visit people’s homes to carry out repairs, maintenance and installations?

Yes, but they must follow PHA guidance on social distancing and guidance on preventing the spread of infection.

Can I continue to attend music lessons?

Yes, music lessons are permitted, as long as social distancing is maintained and there is no close contact.

My hairdresser works from her home – can I have my hair done at her home?

No.  Close contact services must close.

Can my child continue to have private tutoring?

Yes, tutoring is permitted, as long as social distancing is maintained and there is no close contact.

Religious services

Will places of worship be open for services?

Places of worship are encouraged to move services online to the maximum extent possible.

How many people can attend a place of worship for the purposes of recording the service for on-line streaming?

This should be kept to a minimum and preferably no more than 8 should attend.  Those attending must have an active role in facilitating the process and must not include members of the congregation or a choir.

Marriages and civil partnerships

Can marriages and civil partnerships take place?

Marriages and civil partnerships ceremonies are limited to 25 people, including children.   
A risk assessment for over 15 people is required.

Face coverings must be worn by all other than those party to the marriage.

Can receptions take place?

No. Receptions or post ceremony gatherings are not permitted.


How many people are permitted at a funeral?

Funerals are limited to 25 people, including children.

Can people gather before or after a funeral?

No. Pre and post-funeral gatherings are not permitted.

Can wakes or funeral services in homes take place?

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.

Current restrictions on households apply.


Are all schools closed?


Pre-school education settings, primary and post primary schools are required to provide remote learning to pupils until the half term break in mid-February.

Special schools will remain open as usual.

Who can access supervised learning in schools?

Vulnerable children and children of key workers will have access to schools for supervised learning.

Do both parents have to be key workers for a child to access supervised learning in their school?

No, only one parent/guardian is required to be a key worker.

Will free school meal provision continue?

Direct payments will be made to families whose children are entitled to free school meals.

What is the guidance for Further and Higher Education institutions?

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


Can home tutors and those offering music lessons continue to operate?

Yes, subject to number regulations and adherence to PHA guidance on social distancing and guidance on preventing the spread of infection.

Will GCSE and A level exams go ahead?

No. All GCSE, AS and A2 exams due to take place in January, February, May and June have been cancelled.

More details on alternative awarding arrangements will be provided as soon as possible.


Can childcare settings remain open?

Yes, 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.

Can friends or family look after children?

Yes, informal childcare arrangements are permitted to continue.

Medically vulnerable and older people

What is the advice for people who were shielding or 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.

Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people who are working, and are unable to do so from home, are advised not to attend the workplace.

Hospital visits and care homes

Can patients in hospitals receive visitors?

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.

Can visits to care homes take place?

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.

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