Main content


12th April 2021

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 12 April 2021.

Business closures & re-openings

Open Retailers 

Supermarkets and essential retailers are open.

Current government regulations are in place until 5 March 2021. 

Use the drop-down menu below to see the current status for various business/retailers in Northern Ireland.


Updates on re-opening of retailers/businesses

Click and Collect Services

From 12 April 2021, contactless click-and-collect services have resumed for all non-essential retail businesses. A new three-step arrangement has been agreed:

  • Step 1: Customer contacts the retailer by online communication, telephone, text message, or post to place and pay for the order - payment must be completed at the time of order.
  • Step 2: Retailer confirms the order and the allocated collection time.  If either party needs to reschedule the collection time it must be done either by telephone call or online.
  • Step 3:  Customer collects the item ensuring both they and the retailer have complied with social distancing.

For further information see Coronavirus: Guide to providing contactless click-and-collect from 12 April ( 

Current Restrictions 

The current regulations are in place from 12 April 2021. They will be reviewed on 15 April 2021. Some of the restrictions will be in law through regulation, while others will be in guidance. Everyone is legally required to comply with the regulations.

  • All hospitality is closed
  • Takeaway, drive-through and delivery services open until 11pm
  • The provision of food and drink in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals is allowed
  • No outdoor areas to be used for eating 
  • Off sales (alcohol) close at 8pm
  • Non-essential retail closed
  • Click & Collect is not permitted
  • Outdoor and indoor visitor attractions closed
  • Public parks and outdoor play areas open 
  • Gyms, swimming pools, indoor sports and exercise facilities closed
  • Close contact services (e.g. hairdressers, tattoos, beauticians) closed 
  • Places of worship - online services 
  • Funerals limited to 25 people 
  • Drive-in events are not permitted to open
  • Libraries are allowed to provide 'call and collect' services
  • Theatres and concert halls are permitted to open for rehearsals or a live recording without an audience
  • Leisure and entertainment venues such as theatres, concert halls, cinemas, amusement arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, inflatable parks, go-karting venues, soft play centres, fairgrounds and funfairs, indoor museums, galleries, visitor and other cultural attractions are not permitted to open
  • Up to 10 people (including children) from two households can meet outdoors in a private garden.
  • Up to 15 people (including coaches) can take part in structured outdoor sports training, through clubs or individuals affiliated to recognised sports governing bodies or representative organisations for sport and physical activity.
  • The number permitted to attend marriages, civil partnerships and funerals, will be informed by a risk assessment for the venue.
  • Outdoor retail (as defined in the regulations) is permitted to reopen.
  • Potential marriage and civil partnership customers may view the facilities of venues used for marriages and civil partnerships, such as hotels and other venues, restricted to a maximum of four customers per visit.
  • The ‘stay at home’ provision has been removed from legislation. A ‘stay local’ and ‘work from home’ message is in place.

Further information can be found on the executive office website.

Leaving Home 

You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home:

  • 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 access critical public services (for example, MOT or social care services)
  • to attend to the care, welfare and exercise of an animal
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or jury service
  • to donate blood
  • to attend a place of worship
  • to attend a wedding or civil partnership
  • to attend a funeral or visit a burial ground
  • to continue access and contact between parents and children who do not live in the same household
  • to facilitate a house move, and to do associated activities for that purpose, including viewing properties and making arrangements for removals


Hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfast establishments, hostels and caravan sites and self-catering accommodation are only able to operate on a restricted basis.

Accommodation can be provided for:

  • those already resident
  • work-related purposes
  • vulnerable people
  • those in emergency situations
  • people unable to return to their main address

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

Opening hours - Retail stores

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.

No retailers are permitted to sell alcohol past 8pm.  

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 the majority of stores will continue to open between 6am and 10pm for the immediate future. A limited number may stay open until 11pm. All stores will be prioritising access for elderly and vulnerable customers between 9am and 10am every Wednesday and Sunday (except at Express stores). NHS workers will get priority access to stores and can skip the queue at any time (with proof of ID). 

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. 

Asda opening times vary, so check with your local store. Click here to check opening times of your local store. There are no special opening hours for elderly or vulnerable people, but a Volunteer Shopping Card will allow people to buy goods for those who cannot leave the house. There are no dedicated opening hours for NHS workers. 

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

Opening hours - Hospitality sector

Hospitality venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs must remain closed, with the exception of providing food and drink for takeaway, drive-through or delivery.

Businesses providing takeaway services must close at 11.00 pm and off-sales must stop at 8.00 pm. Outdoor areas are not permitted to be used.

The provision of food and drink in motorway services, airports and harbour terminals is allowed.

Hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfast establishments, hostels and caravan sites and self-catering accommodation are only able to operate on a restricted basis.

Accommodation can be provided for:

  • those already resident
  • work-related purposes
  • vulnerable people
  • those in emergency situations
  • people unable to return to their main address

Face coverings in Northern Ireland shops

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

The use of face coverings in relevant places became mandatory from Monday August 10.

A relevant place generally means a shop or shopping centre.  As well as ordinary day-to-day shopping for items such as clothes, food or electrical goods, a face covering is required in any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent. This includes, for example, a bookmakers, a food takeaway business or a dry cleaner

Do I have to wear a face mask when using public transport in Northern Ireland?

Yes. The current requirement for passengers over 13 on public transport vehicles, including buses, trains and the Strangford ferry, is to wear a face covering. 

In addition, it was announced on 29 October 2020 that the wearing of face coverings on all dedicated school buses and public transport will be mandatory for all post-primary children when schools reopen on Monday 2 November. 

Children and young people with special educational needs are not required to wear a face covering if they cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of any disability or cannot do so without severe distress. The current Department of Education guidance states that it is strongly recommended that all pupils, regardless of age, should wear a face covering on all buses, trains or taxis for the journey to school where it is appropriate for them to do so and they are able to handle them as directed.

When do I not have to wear a mask (Northern Ireland)? 

It is not mandatory to wear a face covering in a business that is able to maintain social distancing by using a system of ticketing or appointments. This might include, for example, a cinema, a hairdresser or a solicitor. You do not have to wear a face covering in a bank or a business that operates like a bank.

You do not have to wear a face covering in a gym or other place where the purpose of your attendance is aerobic exercise.

There are circumstances where it is not possible to wear a face covering, for example, where you are eating or drinking in a restaurant, pub or café.  

For more information on face mask exemptions click here

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask in Northern Ireland? 

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. For a full list of when a face mask is not necessary, please see  

Face coverings (prior to 10 August 2020) 

Face coverings were 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 at

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

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.

Carry beg levy 

Amendment Regulations came into operation on 1 April to enable bags used for home deliveries to be supplied free of charge; this was for a period of 6 months up to 30 September. Therefore, from 1 October 2020 the levy will again be applicable for bags used for home deliveries.

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. 


  • Buying limits on some products including toilet roll, soap, hand wash, eggs, and rice. 95 items per order for online shopping

  • Face masks unless you are medically exempt.

  • Some stores will be prioritising access for the elderly and vulnerable customers between 9 am - 10 am every Wednesday and Sunday (except at Express stores)

  • Queue skip for NHS, emergency services, and care workers with proof of ID.


  • No buying restrictions.

  • Face masks unless they are medically exempt. Trained security guards will challenge those not wearing masks.

  • Shop one person per household.

  • The elderly and vulnerable can skip any queues outside the store.

  • Accepting new customers for online shopping but priority will be available for vulnerable customers.


  • There is a chance they might put purchase limits on certain items that are in high demand.

  • They will offer free face masks to customers who have forgotten their own masks. If they refuse to wear one without a medical reason, they will be refused entry.

  • No special opening hours for the elderly / NHS / vulnerable. If they have a Volunteer Shopping Card this will allow people to buy goods for those who cannot leave the house.

  • Limited customers in-store, but they have developed a virtual queuing system called Qudini. It allows you to join a virtual queue.

Spar NI and ViVOxtra

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


  • Face covering unless they have a medical reason.

  • No dedicated shopping for the elderly/vulnerable/NHS.

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.

For more information visit the website.

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 you can visit

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

Belfast Trust
Telephone Carer Service: 028 9504 6702

Southern Trust
Telephone: 028 3756 6284

Western Trust
Southern Sector (Fermanagh/Omagh/Castlederg)
Telephone: 028 6634 4163

Northern Sector (Strabane/L’Derry/Limavady)
Telephone: 028 7135 5023

South Eastern Trust
Telephone: 028 4372 1807

Young Carers in Northern Ireland
Action for Children
Telephone: 028 9046 0500

Contact Dougie Tyler

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 choosing to self-isolate 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. 

The website offers guidance on food safety information for individuals or groups who are wishing to prepare meals at home for their community. This can include preparing or donating meals for:

Food provided for community groups must comply with food law and be safe to eat. For further information on redistributing food and donating to food banks see the website here.

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

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 on the website.

Starting a food business from home

For guidance on how to get compliant and protect your customers when starting a food business from home during COVID-19 visit the website.



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.