Sweeping new powers have come into force in Northern Ireland in response to the threat to health posed by Covid-19.
irst Minister Arlene Foster described the new laws approved by the Executive as extraordinary but proportionate “to the threat we all face from this deadly virus.”
The powers compel the closure of certain premises and prohibit anyone from leaving home without a reasonable excuse.
The laws to enforce restriction of movement and social distancing came into force at 11pm on Saturday.
Gatherings of more than two people are banned.
Penalties ranging from fixed penalty notices to fines of up to £5,000 are being introduced to enforce the new powers.
Mrs Foster said: “These are extraordinary powers for any Government to have to introduce, but we are living in extraordinary times. But we are doing this to keep you safe, to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 infection so that the health service has the capacity to deal with those who need their help the most.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Protecting the public, supporting the health service and saving lives are the priorities for the Executive during this crisis.”
The regulations include that no-one may leave their home without reasonable excuse. These include:
- to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies;
- to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;
- to seek medical assistance;
- to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person and to get to work.
The restrictions on gatherings state no person may participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people except where they are all from the same household.
The regulations list the types of business which will have to close and the types that will have to change their practices if they are to continue trading. They do not impact directly on manufacturing or most of the service sector.
The executive had faced some criticism for the length of time it had taken to agree the regulations.
Under the new powers, the following businesses are subject to closure:
- Restaurants, including restaurants and dining rooms in hotels or members’ clubs
- Cafes, including workplace canteens, excluding cafes or canteens at a hospital, care home or school, canteens at a prison or an establishment intended for use for naval, military or air force purposes or for the purposes of the Department of the Secretary of State responsible for defence, services providing food or drink to the homeless. Workplace canteens may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food
- Bars, including bars in hotels or members’ clubs
- Public houses
- Bingo halls
- Concert halls
- Museums and galleries
- Betting shops
- 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
Here's the updated list of businesses exempted from closure and that can continue to operate if they 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.
- 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 in this Part
- Car parks
- Public toilets
The Executive says it has also agreed that:
- Anyone who can work from home must work from home;
- Employers must facilitate working from home where it is feasible;
- No employer should compel an employee to come to work if it is feasible to work from home;
- Every employer must take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of employees during the COVID-19 emergency, whether working from home or in the workplace;
- Every employer must have particular regard to the safety of employees in the workplace and must put into effect the guidance on social distancing issued by the Department for the Economy;
- Every employer has a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees;
- Where a business is failing to observe the Department for the Economy guidance and breaching the legal duty on health and safety, the statutory authorities will take robust action, which may include prosecution for criminal offences;
- Where necessary, The Executive Office will also use its power of direction to close or restrict businesses that do not ensure the safety of their employees.