Coronavirus: Business closures and restrictions in Northern Ireland

News article

Measures to fight coronavirus place restrictions on businesses and services

The current regulations are in place until 6 February 2020 but will be reviewed on 21 January 2020.

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.

To reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Northern Ireland Executive has introduced measures which place restrictions on how businesses operate and which mean that some must close to customers on-site.

The relevant authorities, including the police, have been given the powers to enforce the measures – including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

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

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.

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.

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.


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 seating is 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 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) 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; for services ancillary to medical, health and social care services; and sports massage and therapeutic services for elite athletes. 


Closure of all retail businesses except for essential retail. 

Click/phone and collect facilities will not be permitted for non-essential retail businesses, however, delivery is allowed.

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. It is mandatory to wear a face-covering when shopping.

An essential retail business may be operated from a market stall and may continue to trade as such.

Car boot sales and car washes are not permitted.

Garden centres and homeware stores must remain closed.

Car washes are only permitted to open for the cleaning and disinfection of vehicles for the purposes of food safety, infection control or animal disease control. No domestic vehicles.

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.


Indoor and outdoor 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 can take place behind closed doors, in line with the elite sport regulations and animal welfare considerations.

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

Other exercise facilities, including activity centres, equestrian centres (access for the purpose of animal welfare is permitted), marinas, and venues relating to motor sport and water sport must also remain closed.

You cannot participate in personal one-to-one training sessions or group activities such as running or cycling.

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

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.

First published 24 March 2020