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14th December 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 14 December 2020.

Business closures & re-openings

Open Retailers 

All non-essential goods retailers in Northern Ireland were allowed to re-open from Friday 12 June 2020, with social distancing rules still in place. Retailers must have completed risk assessments in advance of opening.  

From Friday 11 December 2020, supermarkets and off-licences will not be permitted to sell alcohol after 10.30pm

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

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 

23 September 2020 - Pubs not serving food. Closing times 11pm. 

tbc - Open air museums 

tbc - Theatres, nightclubs and concert halls (for audiences)

tbc - Soft play areas 

See next drop-down menu for restrictions in place from 11 December 2020


Restrictions from Friday 16 October 2020

From Friday 16 October 2020, the following restrictions will be in place for a period of four weeks:

  • Closure of the hospitality sector apart from deliveries and takeaways for food, with the existing closing time of 11.00pm remaining. 
  • Other takeaway premises will be brought in line with hospitality with a closing time of 11.00pm;
  • Close contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians are not permitted to open, apart from those relating to the continuation of essential health interventions and therapeutics. 
  • No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing other than at elite level;
  • No mass events involving more than 15 people (except for allowed outdoor sporting events where the relevant number for that will continue to apply);
  • Gyms may remain open but for individual training only with local enforcement in place;
  • Funerals to be limited to 25 people with no pre- or post-funeral gatherings; 
  • Off licenses and supermarkets will not sell alcohol after 8.00pm;
  • Wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships to be limited to 25 people with no receptions.  This will be implemented on Monday 19 October.  Venues providing the post-ceremony or partnership celebration 16-18 October may remain open for this purpose but may not provide other services for people who are not part of the wedding or partnership party and this will be limited to 25. 

Restrictions from Friday 11 December 2020

From Friday 11 December 2020, the following restrictions are in place:

  • Shops will re-open in line with guidance; 
  • Hotels and accommodation providers will re-open;
  • Libraries will re-open;
  • Wet pubs to remain closed;
  • Places of worship will re-open;
  • Maximum 500 spectators at sporting events;
  • Visitor attractions and entertainment venues to re-open;
  • Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops re-open until 11pm;
  • Other takeaway premises will be brought in line with hospitality with a closing time of 11pm;
  • Close-contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians are permitted to open on appointment basis only;
  • No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing other than at elite level;
  • No mass events involving more than 15 people (except for allowed outdoor sporting events where the relevant number for that will continue to apply);
  • Gyms to open but for individual and one-to-one training only;
  • Funerals to take place in line with guidance. Numbers determined by the size of venue; 
  • Off licenses and supermarkets will not sell alcohol after 10.30pm; and
  • Wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships to take place in line with guidance. Numbers determined by the size of venue.

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.

Please note: From 16 October 2020, no retailers will be permitted to sell alcohol past 8pm. This restriction is in place for four weeks. 

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

A closing time of 11pm has been applied to the hospitality sector, from Friday 11 December 2020.

This applies to those parts of the hospitality sectors subject to current regulations, including restaurants and cafes as well as hotel and guest house bars.

No alcohol or food will be served after 10.30pm and all customers must leave by 11pm. 

There are no exceptions to this, so weddings and other important social events are required to comply.

From Friday 11 December the following restrictions are in place: 

  • Hotels and accommodation providers will re-open;
  • Wet pubs to remain closed;
  • Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops re-open until 11pm; and
  • Wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships to take place in line with guidance. Numbers determined by the size of venue.

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 click here.  

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 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.

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. 


There is a limit of 95 items per online order and restrictions on essentials such as face masks, handwashing products, flour and eggs.

There is a limit of three units for flour, dried pasta, toilet roll, baby wipes and anti-bacterial wipes, and online there are limits on some items such as rice and canned vegetables. 


No buying restrictions 


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

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. 

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 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.