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Coronavirus circuit-breaker Q&A: All you need to know about the closures and restrictions in place in Northern Ireland

Strict new restrictions, including the closure of the hospitality and close contact service sectors and an extended holiday break for schools, have come into force in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus in Northern Ireland.

Which businesses are being forced to close?

The hospitality sector (cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants) across Northern Ireland is forced to close, apart from deliveries and takeaways for food, with the existing closing time of 11pm remaining. All other takeaway premises are brought in line with a closing time of 11pm.

Hotels are able to operate on a restricted basis for current residents and to provide services for those requiring them for work-related purposes, including staff from the frontline battling Covid-19, as well vulnerable people, those in emergency situations and people unable to return to their main address. However, bars in hotels should close. Self-catering and rented accommodation can remain open, however only members of one household or bubble are permitted to stay together.

Additionally, off-licences and supermarkets are not be permitted to sell alcohol after 8pm.

Close contact services, such as hairdressers, beauticians, make-up and nails, tattoo and piercing parlours, tanning shops, sports and massage therapy, well-being and holistic treatments, and driving instructors are not permitted to operate. This also includes the provision of those services in a domestic setting (e.g. mobile hairdressing, make-up artists, etc.).

However, this doesn’t include businesses meeting essential health needs, such as dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatry and other medical services, including services relating to mental health. However, this does not include complimentary treatments.

Dressmakers, tailors and fashion designers can only operate if social distancing is maintained. Indoor museums, galleries and other cultural attractions are not permitted to open. Bingo halls, bowling alleys, cinemas, amusement arcades, skating rinks and funfairs are also not permitted to open.

The retail sector will stay open, with face coverings and social distancing.

Taxis can continue to operate. Gyms and swimming pools may remain open but for individual training only.. Childcare outside school settings is not affected.

Existing exemptions allowing home visits for childcare and maintenance stay in place. It means childcare workers, builders and trades people can continue to go into people's houses to carry out work such as childcare, repairs, installations and deliveries. Music lessons and tuition can also be provided from home.

Access to static caravans remains open, however campsites and services for touring caravans must close.

Outdoor attractions, country parks and forest parks can remain open. Libraries are allowed to provide 'call and collect' services, and access to the internet. Cookery schools and soft play areas can remain open, subject to risk-assessments and with appropriate safety measures in place. Jury trials and other courts and tribunals business continue during the period of increased restrictions..

When do these tougher restrictions, including business closures, become enforceable?

The new coronavirus restrictions were expected to come into force at 6pm on Friday, October 16, however the Regulations were only published at 10.30pm and came into operation "at the time they were made".

The limits for wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships restricting them to 25 people without receptions start from Monday, October 19.

The restrictions, which Arlene Foster has described as “time-limited interventions”, are in place for an initial period of four weeks (28 days). Any continuation or amendment beyond the initial period will require Executive approval.

What support is there for businesses impacted by the fresh closure order?

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has announced a financial support scheme for businesses subject to restrictions across all 11 council areas.

The Localised Restrictions Support Scheme, which opened for businesses in Derry City and Strabane District Council area, opens for all Council areas on Monday October 19.

Under the scheme businesses will now receive the following amounts for every two weeks they are closed:

  • Small businesses (not exceeding £15k Net Annual Value): £1,600
  • Medium businesses (over £15k Net Annual Value and not exceeding £51k Net Annual Value): £2,400
  • Large businesses (over £51k Net Annual Value): £3,200
  • Eligible businesses include:

  • Cafes, pubs and restaurants that have been temporarily forced to close or limit their services to a takeaway service instead;
  • Hotels and guest houses;
  • Close contact services in or (using) commercial premises such as hairdressers and barbers, beauty salons, day spas, nail bars and tattoo parlours forced to close; and;
  • Other businesses which, under the Health Protection Regulations are required to cease to carry on that business or to provide that service, include cinemas, museums, galleries, trampoline parks, inflatable parks, escape rooms, bowling alleys and ice rinks.
  • Businesses in the Derry and Strabane Council area who have already applied to the scheme do not need to re-apply. They will automatically receive the higher payment.

    Regarding salaries, the UK-wide furlough scheme runs out at the end of the month. The job support scheme which replaces furlough from November 1 is a less generous form of subsidy, but was expanded to protect jobs and support businesses required to close their doors as a result of coronavirus restrictions. Eligible businesses will see the UK Government pay two thirds of each employees’ salary (or 67%), up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

    More information on how to access support is available at nibusinessinfo.co.uk/business-support/coronavirus

    When are schools due to close and re-open as part of the Halloween circuit-breaker?

    The half term holiday break for all schools and colleges in Northern Ireland is extended to a two-week break to run from Monday October 19 to Friday October 30. Schools are due to reopen on Monday November 2.

    Additionally, universities and further education are advised to deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible with only essential face to face learning where that is a necessary and unavoidable part of the course.

    What is the advice around working from home?

    As part of the guidance, people are asked to work from home unless unable to do so.

    What are the rules for places of worship, weddings and funerals?

    Places of worship remain open with a mandatory requirement to wear face coverings when entering and exiting. This does not apply to parties to a marriage or civil partnership. Wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships are limited to 25 people with no receptions from Monday October, 19. Venues providing the post-ceremony or partnership celebration may remain open for this purpose this weekend but may not provide other services for people who are not part of the wedding or partnership and this will be limited to 25. Funerals and committals are limited to 25 people with no pre or post-funeral gatherings.

    What about sport, including sporting events?

    No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing other than at elite level is permitted.

    There will be no mass events involving more than 15 people during the period of the circuit-breaker, except for allowed outdoor sporting events where the relevant number for that will continue to apply.

    What about household visits?

    Current household restrictions remain in place. This means a continuation of the restriction on meeting indoors, and a limit on the number who can meet in a private garden (up to six people from no more than two households with social distancing. Children aged 12 and under from those two households are discounted from this total).

    Existing exemptions include:
  • Bubbling with one other household
  • Childcare
  • Building or maintenance work
  • Services of trades or professions (except close contact services)
  • Providing care or assistance, including social services, to a vulnerable person
  • Giving or receiving legal advice or assistance or fulfilling a legal obligation
  • Providing emergency or medical assistance to any person
  • A house move, and to do associated activities for that purpose, including viewing properties and making arrangements for removals
  • A marriage or civil partnership where one of the couple is terminally ill
  • Children whose parents do not live in the same household can move between homes as normal
  • Bubbling is now limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households and no overnight stays are allowed in a private home unless in a bubble.

    What about travel?

    It is advised that no unnecessary travel should be undertaken.

    Why are ministers taking action now?

    The Regulations state they were made in response to "the serious and imminent threat to public health which is posed by the incidence and spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARSCoV-2) in Northern Ireland."

    "The Department of Health considers that the restrictions and requirements imposed by these Regulations are proportionate to what they seek to achieve, which is a public health response to that threat. "

    Here’s a recap of other restrictions that still apply in Northern Ireland

    Where do I have to wear a face mask or covering?

    Face coverings are mandatory in the following settings:

  • Retail shops (for customers and staff)
  • Public transport
  • Taxis and private buses
  • Boarding a plane

  • In public areas of civil services offices such as jobs and benefits offices
  • In banks, building societies, credit unions and post offices
  • For driving instructors and their students
  • Places of worship

    The usual medical exemptions from wearing a face covering still apply.

    What new offences have been introduced?

    The Executive has agreed to introduce three new offences:

  • Not closing a business as required,
  • Breaching closing times,
  • Not implementing social distancing.
  • What fines could I face?

    People in Northern Ireland caught breaching coronavirus regulations now face a minimum fine of £200, an increase on the previous fine, which was £60 and could increase to £960 on repeat offences.

    Breaches of the three new offences will incur a fixed penalty notice of £1,000, or up to £10,000 on conviction.

    What are the rules around visits to hospitals and care homes?

    All health and social care facilities in Northern Ireland only facilitate one face-to-face visit per week by one person.

    The guidance applies to hospital and care homes as well as other facilities.

    Health Trusts and care homes will implement more localised and tighter restrictions in the event of outbreaks.

    The visiting guidance will be kept under ongoing review.

    Every effort should continue to be made to enable other forms of visiting to ensure residents and patients maintain important social connections – e.g. through the use of technology.

    Additional advice on compassionate visits – for instance for those receiving end of life and palliative care – should be facilitated. These arrangements will have to be agreed in advance with the ward or care home.

    In hospices, one visitor for one hour daily is recommended where the environment is Covid-19 secure.

    In maternity services, one partner will be able to accompany the pregnant woman to dating scan, anomaly scan, early pregnancy clinic, fetal medicine appointments and when the woman is in active labour (to be defined by midwife). Visits in antenatal and postnatal wards will be for one person for up to one hour once a week.

    In augmented care areas of burns, renal and cancer services, this should be permitted in Covid-19 secure environments. This means maintaining social distance of up to 2m, attending to hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene, good ventilation and appropriate use of PPE and wearing face covering.

    Further specific provisions in areas like neonatal and paediatrics are detailed in the new visiting guidance document and supporting materials.

    Care homes are encouraged to develop the concept of care partners. Care partners will need to be designated and agree to a number of measures, which may be specific to the individual care home and its visiting policy. There may be two designated care partners sharing this role, one at a time, across the week.

    Belfast Telegraph