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NI's new Covid lockdown explained: More cops on the streets, the 'reasonable excuses' needed for being out and what shops are open?


NI is currently under a six-week lockdown (Brian Lawless/PA)

NI is currently under a six-week lockdown (Brian Lawless/PA)


NI is currently under a six-week lockdown (Brian Lawless/PA)

Northern Ireland entered a six-week lockdown on Boxing Day in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19, with non-essential retail and much of the hospitality sector shut.

On January 5, the Executive agreed tighter restrictions as the numbers of Covid infections continued to climb. And new laws were enacted at midnight on Thursday.

Here's what the new rules mean for you.

Can I leave my home?

A stay-at-home order is now in place, which means you cannot leave your home without a "reasonable excuse".

A reasonable excuse includes:

  • to obtain goods or services from any business permitted to open
  • to take exercise, as permitted in the regulations
  • to visit your bubble
  • to visit hospital, GP, medical appointments or health services (including mental health)
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance
  • to avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
  • to go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
  • to access education or childcare
  • to attend a place of worship, wedding, civil partnership or funeral

Justice Minister Naomi Long said breaching the rule could result in a £200 on-the-spot fine and a fine of £5,000 if the case goes to court.

"In addition, police will have the power to direct people to return to their home ... and additionally have the power to remove a person to where they normally reside," she said.

Speaking on the BBC's The View, Ms Long said there will be an "increase in visible policing" to enforce the rules.

"What we don't want to do is create a climate where people who make minor errors end up being fined," she added.

"There will be enforcement - I'm not saying enforcement is off the table.

"Ultimately it's about personal responsibility and we have to drive that message home - enforcement should be the last option we take."

Can I meet up with others?

Outdoor gatherings have been limited to six, down from 15 previously, from two households - including children under 12. Exemptions will apply to those in established support bubbles.

You will not be allowed to meet with other households in private gardens, however you can exercise outdoors with one person from another household.

People can only visit your home under limited circumstances, such as for childcare purposes, essential maintenance or supported living arrangements.

Is travel affected?

Restrictions on travel that came into force on Boxing Day remain in place.

Anyone travelling into Northern Ireland who plans to stay for 24 hours or more must self-isolate for 10 days, however this does not apply to those who cross the border routinely for essential purposes.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said there will be an advisory 10-mile limit for travelling for exercise.

What shops are open?

Non-essential retail businesses have been closed since December 26, and will remain so, however there have been changes to what is deemed "essential", with homeware stores no longer included.

Click-and-collect retail is also not allowed, except for supermarkets. The hospitality sector will remain closed, except for takeaway and delivery services.

Essential retail businesses include, but are not limited to:

  • food retailers, supermarkets, convenience stores, off licences and newsagents
  • pharmacies and chemists
  • fuel suppliers
  • building supplies and hardware stores
  • banks, building societies and credit unions
  • post offices
  • funeral directors
  • laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services
  • veterinary surgeons, dog groomers and pet shops

Close-contact services such as hair and beauty salons will remain closed.

Can I visit someone in hospital or a care home?

There are restrictions on hospital visits, with certain exceptions, such as a birthing partner supporting a woman during certain visits. You can also visit someone receiving end-of-life care or someone with dementia or a learning disability. You can also accompany a baby or child to hospital.

Care homes visits are also restricted and you are advised to check arrangements with the care home.

Can I go to church?

Northern Ireland's main church denominations have suspended public worship until February 6.

Weddings and funerals can continue, with limits on the numbers who can attend, as well as some drive-in services, baptisms and private prayer.

Belfast Telegraph