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Coronavirus Q&A: What you need to know about the new restrictions and what are 'essential businesses' in Northern Ireland

The Stormont Executive has published a list of essential businesses that are permitted to remain open in Northern Ireland during the coronavirus emergency


People practise social distancing as they queue at a chemist on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast

People practise social distancing as they queue at a chemist on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast

People practise social distancing as they queue at a chemist on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced an effective UK-wide lockdown in a bid to tackle the spread of coronavirus, imposing new restrictions on public life, people's movements and forcing thousands of businesses to close.

The public have been ordered to only leave their homes to travel to and from work if “absolutely necessary”, for medical needs, to shop for essentials, and to exercise once per day.

Only shops selling essential goods, such as food, are permitted to remain open, while restaurants and cafes may only provide takeaway or delivery services.

While the new restrictions will affect the lives of everyone across the UK, many have been left with questions as to what they should do.

Here’s what the new rules mean for you in Northern Ireland.

Q. When am I allowed to leave the house?

A. New social distancing rules state that leaving the house should be kept to a minimum or "as infrequently as possible", as Boris Johnson said during his televised address. It is only permitted when getting to and from work if “absolutely necessary", attending a medical appointment or buying necessities.

You are also able to leave the house once a day for exercise, such as running or cycling. This should be done alone, unless it is with members of your household.

If you provide care or help to a vulnerable person you will also be able to leave home for this purpose.

If you are a “key worker”, such as a police officer or nurse, and your child/children are attending school, you will be able to dropped them off and pick them up.

Q. The UK Government says I must only travel to and from work if “absolutely necessary” - how do I know if it is “absolutely necessary”?

A. All those who are able to work from home have been advised to do so, however for many jobs this is not possible. Those providing essential services or goods will still be able to travel to and from work. Social distancing rules, however, should still be enforced. This means you should stay at least two metres apart from anyone and work gatherings should not take place.

Q. Will the children of divorced parents be able to visit both of them?

A. Cabinet minister the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove has confirmed that children under 18 can move between the households of separated parents, as long as this is normal practice.

Q. Can I attend any outside events?

A. All social events, such as weddings or baptisms, cannot go ahead. Funerals are permitted with only immediate family members in attendance. All social gatherings of more than two people are prohibited.

Q. What businesses are allowed to remain open?

A. Only businesses providing essential goods or services are permitted to stay open. In the food and drink industry, this includes restaurants operating takeaway or delivery services and canteens at hospitals, care homes, schools and prisons.

Facilities offering food or drink to the homeless are also permitted.

All retail shops should shut, except for supermarkets and other food shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, hardware shops and laundrettes.

Pet shops, newsagents and banks can also remain open.

Here's the full list of essential retail services which should continue to trade in Northern Ireland:

  • Supermarkets (excluding any cafes within them), convenience stores and corner shops
  • Grocery markets – not including farmers markets, hot food markets or street food markets
  • Local fresh food suppliers like butchers, fishmongers and bakeries
  • Hot food takeaways - over the counter services only and not allowing an option to eat in
  • Pharmacies/Chemists and Health food shops
  • Dental surgeries, opticians, audiology, physiotherapy, chiropody and other professional vocational medical services – for urgent appointments only
  • Veterinary clinics and pet shops
  • Newsagents
  • Hardware and building supplies stores
  • Retail services in hospitals
  • Petrol stations, garages, and auto repair shops for urgent work only
  • High street banks, credit unions and cash points
  • Post offices
  • Funeral directors, crematoriums and related
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop-off points
  • Medical or storage services
  • Public car parks in towns and cities near food takeaway services
  • Public toilets.

Businesses that are permitted to stay open have been asked to ensure a distance of two meters is kept between customers and shop assistants, to only let people enter in small groups, and to introduce queue control measures outside the premises.

Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can only remain open for those guests staying while their primary residence is unavailable. Key workers can also continue to stay at such accommodation.

Manufacturing and construction firms can continue to operate as long as they enforce social distancing. Ministers say this will be kept under review.

Q. What should I do if my business is not on the list of essential services?

A. Stormont ministers have told non-essential services they should close immediately, including:

  • Clothes shops
  • Electronics shops
  • Hair, beauty and nail salons
  • All other non-essential retail shops, including off-licenses
  • All other indoor and outdoor markets including non-food markets and car boot sales
  • Hotels, hostels, Bed and Breakfasts, Caravan Parks, Camping sites, Boarding Houses – except where caravans and mobile homes are being used as permanent residences and where hotels are providing emergency accommodation
  • Libraries
  • Community centres and youth centres
  • Places of worship – all churches should close to services except for funeral services. Weddings and baptisms should be postponed. If clergy want to live-stream for church services, they are free to do so
  • All indoor recreation sites such as bowling alleys, arcades, soft play areas
  • Enclosed spaces in public parks such as playgrounds, tennis courts and outdoor gyms.

Q. How will these measures be enforced?

A. Police will have the power to disperse public gatherings and issue fines, however it is unclear how officers will monitor whether people are breaking the rules, what action will then be taken, and how much the fines will be.

Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will enforce the rules regarding businesses. Those found to be breaking the rules can be subject to prohibition notices and potentially unlimited fines.

Q. How long will the restrictions be in place for?

A. The restrictions will be in place for at least three weeks, at which time they will be reviewed. At this stage they could be relaxed or tightened.

Many have speculated that the restrictions will be in force for longer than three weeks, such as First Minister Arlene Foster.

“If I was a betting person, I would say it would continue long after three weeks. It is right we review what are quite draconian measures. But I would imagine it will last longer than three weeks,” she said.

Belfast Telegraph