07th August 2020

Coronavirus: Shopping, Food Safety and Pricing Practices

Information about the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) to retailers, supermarkets, food safety and sales & pricing practices during the coronavirus pandemic.

The information on this page was last updated on 7 August 2020.

Eat Out to Help Out Scheme

A new government online finder is available to help diners locate participating outlets. Simply enter your postcode, or one near to where you want to eat out, to get a list of participating outlets within a five-mile radius.

Further details:

  • More than 73,000 restaurants across the UK have now signed up to the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.
  • It’s not just restaurants who are eligible – the scheme is open to all establishments that sell food for consumption on the premises; such as hotels, leisure centres and office canteens.
  • Businesses using the scheme will offer a 50% reduction, up to a maximum of £10 per person, to all diners who eat and/or drink-in on Mondays to Wednesdays throughout August. Alcohol is excluded from the offer.
  • Customers do not need a voucher as participating establishments will simply deduct the discount from their bill, and reclaim the discounted amount through an online service.
  • Outlets which have already registered will start to receive window stickers this week, so customers can start looking out for the logo.

Business closures & re-openings

Open Retailers 

All non-essential goods retailers in Northern Ireland were allowed to re-open from Friday 12 June, with social distancing rules still in place. Retailers must have completed risk assessments in advance of opening.  

Use the drop-down menu below to see a timeline of other business/retailers re-opening. 

Retailers that have been allowed to stay open during COVID-19

  • Supermarkets and other food shops
  • Medical services (such as dental surgeries, opticians and audiology clinics, physiotherapy clinics, chiropody and podiatry clinics, and other professional vocational medical services)
  • Pharmacies and chemists, including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops
  • Hardware shops and equipment, plant and tool hire
  • Veterinary surgeries and pet shops
  • Agricultural supplies shops
  • Corner shops and newsagents
  • Off-licences and licenced shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Post offices
  • Vehicle rental services
  • Car garages and MOT services
  • Car parks
  • High street banks, building societies, short-term loan providers, credit unions and cash points
  • Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop off points where they are on the premises of any of the above businesses
  • Public toilets
  • Shopping centres may stay open but only units of the types listed above may trade

Updates on re-opening of retailers/businesses

18 May 2020 - Large outdoor retailers, e.g. Garden centres (however cafés must be take-away only) 

18 May 2020 - Recycling centres 

18 May 2020 - Angling facilities 

1 June 2020 - Ikea re-opened its Belfast stores with a new series of safety measures to ensure social distancing. The homewares chain said social distancing wardens will patrol the stores and the number of customers would be limited. Restaurants and play areas will remain closed but the food market will reopen. 

8 June 2020 - Outdoor non-food retailers, including new and used car retailers; retailers of light motor vehicles, lorries/trailers; retailers of caravans or motorhomes, and retailers of agricultural or other large machinery. 

12 June 2020 - All non-essential goods retailers in Northern Ireland can re-open from Friday 12 June, subject to them adhering to the necessary safety measures and no increase in the spread of the virus.

15 June 2020 - Housing market. 

26 June 2020 - Self-catering accommodation, including caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering holiday homes, will be allowed to re-open.

3 July 2020 - Hospitality sector including restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, pubs/bars that sell food with table service, and pubs/bars with outside spaces (such as beer gardens) serving alcohol on a table service basis. 

3 July 2020 - Zoos, museums, historic houses, culture and heritage venues.

6 July 2020 - Businesses that provide nail, beauty, hair and tanning services, electrolysis and acupuncture. 

6 July 2020 - Tattoo parlours, holistic therapies, reflexology 

10 July 2020 - Indoor gyms and outdoor playgrounds

16 July 2020 - Libraries 

17 July 2020 - Competitive sports with "limited numbers" of outdoor spectators 

24 July 2020 - Outdoor spectators of competitive sports (where access & social distancing can be controlled) 

24 July 2020 - Swimming pools, spas, community centres, funfairs, bowling alleys

29 July 2020 - Bingo halls and arcades 

29 July 2020 - Other seated indoor venues such as cinemas and theatres

7 August 2020 - Indoor sports courts, skating rinks, leisure centres  

8 August 2020 - Theatres and concert halls (for staff and performers)

28 August 2020 - Socially-distanced indoor spectators can return to sporting events 

Late August 2020 - Open air museums 

1 September 2020 - Theatres and concert halls (for audiences)

1 September 2020 - Soft play areas 

1 September 2020 - Pubs (not serving food) 

Opening hours

Some stores have changed opening hours to allow for increased cleaning and restocking and announced special opening times for vulnerable/older consumers. See the drop-down menu below for further details.

Opening hours (click to view)

Sainsbury’s have confirmed that elderly and vulnerable customers will be given priority and will have the first hour of the stores opening to themselves. 

Tesco have reduced store opening hours and will continue to open between 6am and 10pm for the immediate future.

Iceland's Kennedy Centre store in West Belfast will let older customers shop on their own between 08:00 and 09:00 every day.

Fresh Food Centre stores in Castlewellan and Warrenpoint have revised their opening hours from 8am to 8pm each day until further notice. 

Note: For everyone’s protection, many shops/supermarkets have introduced distancing measures at checkouts to reduce the risk of infection.

Face coverings in Northern Ireland shops

Do I have to wear a face mask when shopping in Northern Ireland? 

The Executive has announced that the use of face coverings in certain indoor settings, including shops, will be mandatory from Monday August 10.

Ministers are urging the public to do the right thing and wear a face covering for the good of everyone.

For more information click here

Children under 13 will not be asked to wear the face coverings. Nor will those who cannot wear them on health grounds or are employees working behind protective screens.

Face coverings are already compulsory in Northern Ireland on public transport, for hospital and care home visitors, as well as for patients attending hospital appointments. 

Sales and pricing practices during the coronavirus pandemic

Contactless Spending

From 1 April 2020, the spending limit for contactless card payments will be increased from £30 to £45. This may not be available immediately as some retailers may need time to update their systems.  

In addition to this, Tesco Bank has increased the contactless payment limit on the free Tesco Pay+ app to £250, which customers can use with one scan of their phones at checkouts

Unfair Pricing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wants to ensure that traders do not exploit the current situation to take advantage of people by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment. The CMA has stated that it will take direct enforcement action in appropriate cases. In addition, the CMA will assess whether it should advise Government to consider taking direct action to regulate prices.

The CMA's statement on this matter is available here.   

Home food delivery

Supermarkets - Online delivery slots

Asda, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have now confirmed they will allocate a proportion of online delivery slots to this group who need it most. To register your interest, you must complete a form here.

Deliveries from other food retailers 

Who is delivering? Northern Ireland is a Facebook page that is sharing information on businesses in Northern Ireland that are delivering fresh food, groceries and pre-made meals. Have a check to see what local businesses near you are able to deliver food to your door.

There is an interactive map available by clicking here.

Restrictions when purchasing goods

A number of supermarkets have placed restrictions on the number of items consumers can purchase.

Use the drop-down menus below to see the latest update on restrictions from supermarkets in Northern Ireland. 


There is a limit of 85 items per online order and restrictions on essentials such as face masks, handwashing products, flour and eggs.


  • Limiting product ranges to prioritise availability of essential items
  • Sainsbury’s is experiencing high demand for certain products, so some restrictions remain in place for the most popular items, including UHT milk, tinned tomatoes and pasta.


At the time of writing, there are no buying restrictions, but Asda says it will occasionally put purchase limits on certain products that are in high demand.

Spar NI and ViVOxtra

Spar NI and ViVOxtra consumers can purchase no more than three of each item. 

Food safety

Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidance on food safety

The FSA has published new guidance to help consumers understand more about COVID-19 and food. The guidance covers a range of issues including food hygiene, food packaging and social distancing when shopping. There is also advice on storing food at home, to help people manage leftovers and avoid waste.

Click here for more information.

COVID-19 and food safety

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food as COVID-19 is not a food borne virus. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. The advice to food businesses and consumers is to maintain good hygiene practices and to wash your hands regularly. Thorough cooking of food will kill the virus and there is little scientific evidence relating to the survival of the COVID-19 on the surface of open food. Source: Ulster Farmers Union.

Home Delivery

Many consumers are having difficulties accessing home deliveries. Some members of the public are finding ways to share information about shops that are offering delivery services and local community groups that can offer help and support. One of these is the Facebook group 'Who is delivering? Northern Ireland'. This group have developed a map with links to local shops that deliver and this information is growing every day. For a link to their map click here

Carer ID Cards - Priority Shopping

An ID card to support carers in Northern Ireland, similar to IDs for healthcare workers, is now available. Carers will be able to show their ID in stores to get access to priority shopping hours.

Carer ID cards are issued by the Health Trusts. Carers who are known to their local Trust and are in receipt of services will receive an ID card – there is no need to apply for a card. 

Young carers will be contacted by either Barnardos or Action for Children depending on the Trust area they live in.  

Please contact your Trust Carer co-ordinator, Barnardos or Action for Children if you have not received a card before 22 June 2020. Contact details below. 

Contact details for Trusts, Barnardos and Action for Children

Northern Trust
Telephone Carer Hub: 028 2766 1210
Email: [email protected]

Belfast Trust
Telephone Carer Service: 028 9504 6702
Email:  [email protected]

Southern Trust
Telephone: 028 3756 6284
Email: [email protected]

Western Trust
Southern Sector (Fermanagh/Omagh/Castlederg)
Telephone: 028 6634 4163
Email: [email protected]

Northern Sector (Strabane/L’Derry/Limavady)
Telephone: 028 7135 5023
Email: [email protected]

South Eastern Trust
Telephone: 028 4372 1807
Email: [email protected]

Young Carers in Northern Ireland
Action for Children
Telephone: 028 9046 0500
Email: [email protected]

Contact Dougie Tyler
Email: [email protected]

Keeping customers and staff safe

Most shops have queuing systems in place outside and ask you to queue at a safe distance of two metres apart. Try to keep a safe distance from other customers and from store staff when you are doing your shop. Many stores have placed markings on shop floors to help you know what a safe distance is and many manned checkouts are now screened. Stores are also encouraging payment by card where possible.

Stores have also started installing large plastic screens in front of tills. Some stores also have a one way aisle system in place.


The latest advice is that anyone in self-isolation should ask friends or family to drop off anything they need, or order supplies online.

Any deliveries should be left outside their homes.

Food banks

There are numerous food banks operating across Northern Ireland. Many of these are operated by The Trussell Trust, who can point you in the direction of your local food bank. 

We are monitoring food banks in Northern Ireland and have published the most up-to-date information in the link below. 

Weekly food delivery service

The Department for Communities has a weekly service which delivers to the most vulnerable in society during the COVID-19 lockdown.

From 26 June 2020 - this will only continue to be available for those shielding. If you are still shielding but are not receiving food boxes, call 0808 802 0020. 

From 31 July 2020 - this will no longer be available. 

Read more in our 'Vulnerable Consumers' section. 

Guidance for food businesses

The Food Standards Agency has now published guidance to assist food businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  The new guidance has been developed with The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and covers a range of areas including good hygiene practice, management of employee sickness, and social distancing for specific food business settings.

Following the announcement by the Northern Ireland Executive and the publication of the ‘Pathway to Recovery’ document, the Food Standards Agency has collated guidance for food businesses operating during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Advice is provided to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely in the food sector and complements the wider business guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. You can also find more information on workplace safety guidelines and social distancing on NI Business Info.

The Food Standards Agency website provides information for food manufacturers, restaurants and takeaways, and the farming and agriculture sectors. The guidance covers a range of areas, including social distancing, cleaning and staff training. It outlines the hygiene processes and requirements food businesses must follow as they develop new ways of working.

Reopening checklist for food businesses during COVID-19

The Food Standards Agency has published a checklist to support food businesses to reopen safely during COVID-19 after a period of inaction. It is available here.


Pharmacies and chemists, including non-dispensing pharmacies, currently remain open. 

Boots has produced a FAQ regarding the coronavirus, prescription deliveries and collecting prescriptions for other people.