Coronavirus: Business closures and restrictions in Northern Ireland

News article

Measures to fight coronavirus place restrictions on businesses and services

Important: The Northern Ireland Executive has introduced a 'circuit breaker' for a two week period ending at 23:59 on Thursday 10 December 2020. This places additional restrictions on non-essential retail businesses, close contact services, leisure venues, sporting events, and extends a requirement to close hospitality venues to non-licensed premises as well as licensed premises.

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.

Businesses which must close to customers on-site

The Regulations set out that only retail businesses that are wholly or mainly essential are permitted to open during the two-week circuit-breaker.

A list of retail businesses deemed to be essential is defined in the Regulations. For clarity, to be permitted to open, the essential retail part of the business must constitute 50% or more of the floor space of the retail premises.

Businesses that are deemed to be ‘mainly’ essential may continue to sell non-essential items.
Where an essential retail business has another, separate business embedded within it that is required to close, the embedded business must close (eg a garden centre can remain open but a cafe within it must close).

Click/phone and collect facilities will be permitted to operate by non-essential retail businesses on an appointment-only basis, outside the building and with maximum mitigations in place - see recommended guidelines for the safe operation of click and collect services.

If you are responsible for operating any of the following types of business you must keep it closed:

  • driving instruction (except for motorcycle instruction which is permitted)
  • close contact services, such as:
    • hairdressing or barbering
    • provision of beauty or aesthetics treatments including treatments in relation to nails or makeup
    • tattooing
    • tanning
    • services in spas
    • sports and massage therapy (except if provided to an elite athlete)
    • well-being and holistic therapies
    • dress fitting, tailoring and fashion design
    • training in any of the services above
    • body piercing
    • electrolysis

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. Close contact services for the purpose of film or television production are permitted.

  • hospitality venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs

Hospitality businesses may provide food and drink for takeaway, drive-through or delivery. Businesses providing takeaway services must close at 23:00 and off-sales must stop at 20:00. Food in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals are exempt.

  • bed and breakfast establishments, hotels, bunkhouses, hostel guest accommodation, self-catering establishments or guest houses except in relation to residents who are:
    • already resident on the date this schedule comes into operation
    • resident for work-related purposes
    • vulnerable people
    • unable to return to their private dwelling due to an emergency
  • cinemas (drive-in events are also not permitted)
  • nightclubs
  • museums and galleries
  • conference halls and conference facilities, including those in hotels
  • theatres and concert halls (except for rehearsal or live recording, in both cases without an audience)
  • campsites and services for touring caravans
  • funfairs (whether outdoors or indoors) and an inflatable park
  • indoor amusement arcades
  • skating rinks
  • indoor visitor attractions
  • a business of providing facilities for persons to consume intoxicating liquor in or on a conveyance
  • libraries (except to meet orders or requests received through a website or other online communication, or by telephone including by text message)
  • swimming and diving pools
  • indoor sports and exercise facilities, including soft play areas, leisure centres, gyms, equestrian centres, venues relating to motorsport and activity centres
  • outdoor sports and exercise facilities including activity centres, equestrian centres, marinas, and venues relating to motorsport and water sport
  • outdoor visitor attractions, with the exception of play areas, public parks, forest and country parks, and outdoor areas of stately homes, historic homes, castles and properties operated by the National Trust

Businesses that may operate

The following businesses can operate in line with appropriate precautions and/or specific regulations.

  • food retailers
  • supermarkets, convenience stores and corner shops
  • off licences and licensed shops selling alcohol (including breweries), however, alcohol is not permitted to be sold after 20:00
  • pharmacies (including non-dispensing pharmacies) and chemists
  • newsagents
  • homeware stores, building supplies businesses and hardware stores
  • petrol stations
  • bicycle shops
  • pet shops
  • agricultural supplies shops
  • storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop-off or collection points (where the facilities are in the premises of a business included in this list)
  • garden centres and ornamental plant nurseries and Christmas tree sales (but not cafes or restaurants in such premises)
  • livestock markets
  • motor vehicle repair and MOT services
  • taxi or vehicle hire businesses
  • banks, building societies, credit unions, short term loan providers and cash points savings clubs and undertakings which by way of business operate currency exchange offices, transmit money (or any representation of money) by any means or cash cheques which are made payable to customers
  • 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
  • car parks
  • public toilets

An essential retail business may 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.

Motorcycle instruction is permitted, as well as close contact services for the purpose of film or television production (see Businesses which must close to customers on-site above for details).

Outdoor parks and play areas are permitted to remain open.

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


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

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

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

Work and services carried out in private homes

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.

Businesses/ individuals providing close contact services in a private dwelling are not permitted to operate.

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