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Coronavirus Q&A: When can I leave my home and what businesses have to close in Northern Ireland?

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has said police will use new laws to enforce coronavirus-related restrictions on public life only when "absolutely necessary".

It comes as tough new restrictions came into force in Northern Ireland for the public and businesses, which curb when people can leave the house and under what circumstances businesses can remain open.

They include new limitations on public movement, meaning you could be fined if you don't have a reasonable excuse for being outside your home.

Q. So under what circumstances can people be out in public?

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food for household members and pets as well as medicine, as infrequently as possible.
  • To take one form of exercise a day - for example, a walk, run or cycle - by yourself or with people who live with you.
  • For any medical need, including to donate blood and to provide care or help for a vulnerable person. You can also leave the house to avoid or escape risk of injury or harm.
  • To go to work or provide voluntary or charitable services but only if you cannot work from home.
  • Children under 18 can be moved between their parents' homes if their parents do not live together.
  • Even if you need to leave the house for the reasons above, you should minimise the time spent outside the home and stay two metres apart from anyone who is not from your household.

Q. Are there any other reasons I can leave the house?

Yes, you can also leave the house to attend the funeral of someone in your household or a close family member, or to attend a funeral where family or household members can not attend.

You can also leave to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or satisfying bail conditions.

The public may also leave the home to access critical public services, including childcare and/or educational facilities if they are still available to a parent, such as schools remaining open for the children of key workers. You may also leave to access social care services, for example or services to victims of crime.

If you are a minister or religious leader, you may go to your place of worship.

Permission has also been given to move house if moving is unavoidable.

For those who live in a home where a garden or yard is available, they are also allowed use those facilities.

Q. What happens if I leave the house and I don't have a reasonable excuse?

You may be issued with a fixed penalty notice if you do not have a reasonable excuse for being outside your home.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has said a £60 penalty could be issued to those failing to comply with the measures, rising to £120 for a repeat offence and double thereafter - up to a maximum fine of £960.

The penalty would be issued if an adult aged over 18 fails to comply with instruction from a police officer to return to their home.

The fine of £60 can fall to £30 if paid within 14 days, while the highest fines of up to £5,000 will be reserved for businesses.

Q. Which businesses must close?

  • Restaurants, including restaurants and dining rooms in hotels or members’ clubs.

  • Cafes, including workplace canteens unless at a hospital, care home or school, at a prison or serving the armed forces. They may also remain open if serving the homeless or unless there's no alternative for staff to obtain food.

  • Bars, including bars in hotels or members’ clubs.

  • Public houses.

  • Cinemas.

  • Theatres.

  • Nightclubs.

  • Bingo halls.

  • Concert halls.

  • Museums and galleries.

  • Casinos.

  • Betting shops.

  • Spas.

  • Nail, beauty, hair salons and barbers.

  • Massage parlours.

  • Tattoo and piercing parlours.

  • Skating rinks.

  • Indoor fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools, bowling alleys, amusement arcades or soft play areas or other indoor leisure centres or facilities.

  • Funfairs (whether outdoors or indoors).

  • Playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms.

  • Outdoor markets (except for stalls selling food).

  • Car showrooms.

  • Auction houses.

Meanwhile, the following types of businesses can continue to operate but are under a legal duty to adopt social distancing measures.

  • Food retailers, including food markets, supermarkets, convenience stores and corner shops.

  • Off licences and licensed shops selling alcohol (including breweries).

  • Pharmacies (including non-dispensing pharmacies) and chemists.

  • Newsagents.

  • Homeware, building supplies and hardware stores.

  • Petrol stations.

  • Car repair and MOT services.

  • Bicycle shops.

  • Taxi or vehicle hire businesses.

  • Banks, building societies, credit unions, short term loan providers and cash points.

  • 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 and pet shops.

  • Agricultural supplies shop.

  • Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop off or collection points, where the facilities are in the premises of a business included.

  • Car parks.

  • Public toilets.

Q. How long will the new lockdown rules be in force for?

The Department of Health must review the need for the restrictions and requirements imposed by the Executive on the Northern Ireland public at least once every 21 days, with the first review being carried out by April 18th. The new powers are valid for a maximum period of six months.

Belfast Telegraph