COVID-19 advice - Northern Ireland

Last updated on: 23 September 2020

Each of the devolved nations has its own approach to handling the COVID-19 crisis. Here you’ll find the specific details for people living in Northern Ireland. 

While things are changing, you still need to follow the guidance on staying home as much as possible and limiting contact with others, social distancing and hygiene. For the latest updates on what you can and can't do, read health ni gov uk website

For more information on local lockdown areas listed, check the latest guidance on the NI direct Gov website and for details on the specific restrictions check the local council websites.

  • Belfast
  • Ballymena

We’re regularly updating coronavirus information to ensure you have the most up-to-date and relevant content available.

Meeting other people

From 22 September 2020 the following measures have been introduced for all households in Northern Ireland:

  • no mixing of households in private dwellings, with exemptions for:
    • bubbling with one other household
    • caring responsibilities including childcare
    • building or maintenance work, or the services of any trade or profession
    • supported living arrangements
    • visits required for legal or medical purposes
    • a business operating from a person’s home
    • a funeral
    • a house move
    • marriage or civil partnership ceremony in a private dwelling where one partner is terminally ill
  • no more than six people to gather in a private garden from no more than two households - children aged 12 and under from those two households are not counted in this total

Read more about what you can and can't do.

Forming a bubble

People who live alone are permitted to visit one other household indoors to form a bubble.

The bubble would therefore contain two households forming a single unit, that is the person living on their own and members of the other household, where social distancing between them would no longer be required.

Changes to shielding advice - from the 1 August

Shielding has been paused. Pausing, rather than stopping shielding is just a precaution and there are no plans for it to restart at the moment. The pause is indefinite, but it remains possible that it will need to reactivate the guidance if the risk increases in the future.

Read more about what these changes mean for extremely vulnerable people.

Social distancing should continue to be followed. People who are vulnerable and should continue to take precautions.  It is still best to stay at home as much as possible.

Note, shielding may continue if you live in one of the local areas with restrictions or lockdown. If you’re advised to shield again, the support you receive may vary slightly depending on where you live. Read the latest guidance on the easing of lockdown and what the changes will mean for you.

Taking extra care and strict social distancing

If you are in the extremely vulnerable group and do go out, you should take extra care to minimise contact with others by maintaining strict social distancing. This includes:

  • Keeping two metres away from people not in your household or support bubble and avoid face to face contact
  • Avoiding crowded spaces
  • Wearing face coverings on public transport, in shops, for hospital appointments and in enclosed public places
  • Washing your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser outside your home if you’ve touched other surfaces
  • Working from home if you can and if you have to travel to work by public transport avoid peak times

Read more information about staying safe.

Social distancing

Social distancing means staying at home except for a few specific purposes. These include work (if you can’t work at home), exercise, collecting food or medical supplies, receiving essential healthcare or providing care for someone vulnerable.

When you do need to leave your home try, wherever possible, to keep at least two metres from anyone who is not a member of your own household. From 18 May outdoor gatherings of up to six people not from the same household are allowed with social distancing.

Hygiene is also important. Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds using soap and water; when these aren’t readily available, use a hand sanitiser gel instead.

For a full list of reasons you can leave the house for, read the guidance on the NI Direct website.

What about face masks?

It is mandatory to wear a facial covering when entering confined spaces such as shops and on public transport. Read more about face coverings.

Face coverings should not be used in place of physical distancing and good hygiene.

Rules about exercise and outdoor activity

You can leave your home to exercise, unless you have symptoms of coronavirus or have been identified as needing to shield yourself against coronavirus.

Outdoor spaces and public sport amenities are open to allow walking, running, cycling, some water activities, golf and tennis, while maintaining social distancing. Read more information about exercise on the Public Health Agency website.


You should self-isolate if you or somebody else in your household develops symptoms of coronavirus. This means not leaving your home for any reason and not having visitors, unless it’s for essential medical care. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 however mild, you must self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started. You should arrange to have a test to see if you have COVID-19 – go to testing to arrange. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

You can also download a new 'StopCovid NI' app  if you are based in Northern Ireland.  This is the first of its type to launch in the UK and it anonymously contacts you if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus.

You’ll need to arrange for food and essential supplies to be delivered and these should be left at your door to minimise contact with the delivery person.

Read the NI Direct guidance on self-isolating.


There’s a freephone helpline number 0808 802 0020 for vulnerable people. Or you can complete a form on the Advice NI website, email or text ACTION to 81025. You can find a directory of other useful helplines on the Helplines NI website.


The Department of Health has developed a Covid-19 NI app - search for Covid-19 NI on the Apple app store or Covid-19 NI on Google Play and an online symptom checker.

Health and Social Care (HSC) in NI has developed a library of smartphone apps to support health and social well being.

Staying safe at work

Read the latest guidance for employers and employees to keep safe in the workplace during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Public Health Agency has produced a useful list of FAQs.

Keep updated

If you’re feeling isolated from family and friends during these uncertain times, we’re here for you. Find out more about the support available in your area.

Stay in touch and follow us on Northern Ireland Versus Arthritis Facebook and Northern Ireland Versus Arthritis Twitter.

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