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 27 July 2021.
Business closures & re-openings
Supermarkets and essential retailers are open.
As of 30 April 2021 all retail is allowed to open.
Use the drop-down menu below to see the current status for various business/retailers in Northern Ireland.
From April 23:
- Resumption of driving instruction and theory tests;
- Driving testing can resume;
- Re-opening of close contact services including training, hairdressers, beauty salons, tattoo parlours, sun beds, etc;
- Re-opening of outdoor visitor attractions including outdoor activity centres;
- Resumption of Equine Assisted Therapy and Learning (EATL) on an indoor and outdoor basis in gatherings of up to 30 people;
- Outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated will be extended to include squad training;
- Competitive outdoor sport organised by a club, individual or individuals affiliated, with participant numbers not exceeding 100 and no spectators permitted can return and
- Static band practice/rehearsal will be permitted in agreed outdoor locations.
From 30 April:
- Increase the numbers permitted to gather in Domestic Setting Outdoors – to 15 people from no more than 3 households;
- Reopen all of retail; and
- Permit individual activities in gyms, swimming pools and other large venues – including with a carer and to allow 1-2-1 training/coaching with social distancing.
From May 24:
- Allowing visits indoors in domestic settings;
- Reopening indoor visitor attractions; and
- Resume indoor group exercise and training in numbers limited to suit the venue.
- 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.
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 08:00 to 20:00 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.
High Street Stimulus Scheme - £100 Vouchers
Every person in Northern Ireland aged 18 and over will be eligible to apply for a pre-paid card worth £100 to spend in their local high street.
It is planned that the registration process will open to the public in September.
Consumers should sign up for the electoral register if they have not already done so as it will be used to check registrations for the High Street Scheme. Click here to check the Electoral Register.
The High Street Stimulus (HSS) scheme - which is a vital part of the Economic Recovery Action Plan - is designed to stimulate local businesses, including retail and hospitality sector outlets, following the pandemic.
Eligible individuals aged 18 and over will be asked to apply for the pre-paid card through a dedicated online portal. The card must be used in ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses within Northern Ireland and cannot be used online. The Minister also revealed that, if conditions are right, the HSS scheme will open at the end of the summer.
Opening hours - Hospitality sector and other services
From 30 April 2021:
- Reopen and permit overnight stays in self-contained tourist accommodation for one household only;
- Reopen unlicensed premises, outdoors only with a maximum of 6 people from 2 households per table and contact details recorded;
- Reopen licensed premises, including social clubs, outdoors only, limited to 6 people from no more than 2 households and contact details recorded;
- Remove the curfew on takeaways; and
- Remove the curfew on off licences.
From 24 May 2021:
- Reopening unlicensed and licensed premises indoors with mitigations; and
- Reopening the remainder of Tourist accommodation.
Other conditions are:
- Children under 12 are not counted in the 6.
- Table service only (table service requirement will be removed for unlicensed premises from 5 June 2021)
- More will be permitted if all are from one household, to a maximum of 10.
- All contact details must be taken and retained.
- Social distancing required – minimum of 1m.
- Must stay at table – no gaming machines, pool tables, etc.
- Face coverings must be worn once no longer seated for any reason, for example, to go to the toilet.
- No meal requirement.
- No dancing.
- No live music.
- Music must be at ambient level to permit normal conversation.
- Risk assessment as per current regulations for outdoors.
For tourist accommodation:
- All contact details must be taken and retained.
- Rooms/accommodation area booking in line with the permission re indoor domestic settings/bubbles.
- Shared facilities will reopen.
- Meeting rooms will be reopened - capacity will be to risk assessment maximum.
From 24 May 2021:
Post wedding and civil partnership events:
- Risk assessment for capacity
- No restriction on top table
- Other tables maximum of ten (no household restriction)
- Children under 12 excluded from table numbers
- One dance permitted for the couple
- Music same as for licenced venues
Other hospitality events e.g. gala dinners, functions, ticketed or not:
- Capacity to risk assessment maximum.
- Subject to other indoor hospitality requirements e.g. table seating, contact details, music etc.
- Conference facilities in tourism sector – the closure will be removed from the Regulations to allow use for other purposes to risk assessment capacity.
As a result of the changes to tourism the Executive are removing the restriction on staying overnight away from your normal home.
Indoor visitor attractions - includes amusement arcades, bingo halls, museums, galleries and cinemas.
- Social distancing
- Risk assessment to maximum capacity
- All contact details must be taken and retained
Resume indoor group exercise and training in numbers limited to suit the venue - includes soft play areas, leisure centres, gyms, swimming pools, equestrian centres, venues relating to motor sport and activity centres.
- Social distancing
- Risk assessment to maximum capacity
- All contact details must be taken and retained
Increase numbers for outdoor gatherings to 500 or capped at risk assessment level if lower. This would allow up to 500 spectators at any outdoor event. Any gatherings of over 30 people outdoors must be an organised gathering and would require a risk assessment. The Executive would advise organisers to consider the use of Lateral Flow Tests for any planned larger events.
Libraries will re-open and provide limited in-library services in line with permitted gathering numbers.
There will be a full return to outdoor sport through the removal of:
- the limit of 15;
- the limit on squad training;
- the requirement for outdoor sport being permitted only for those affiliated to a Governing body or an organisation that regulates a sport or sporting activity;
- and the cap of 100 on competitive sporting events, and replace with an overall limit of 500 on all outdoor sporting events.
This will allow more informal sporting events, such as 5-aside matches to take place up to 500 participants, with 500 spectators also.
There was a return to indoor club training in squads on 24 May, followed by a return to indoor competitive sport on 31 May.
From 27 July 2021:
Concert Venues, Theatres and Other Indoor Venues (seated):
Audiences will be permitted to return to performances.
Live music will be permitted for rehearsals and performances, with no restriction to background or ambient levels of volume.
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.
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 www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-face-coverings.
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
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
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 www.gov.uk
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 www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/priority-online-food-delivery.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 www.arcgis.com
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.
Telephone Carer Hub: 028 2766 1210
Telephone Carer Service: 028 9504 6702
Telephone: 028 3756 6284
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.
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 food.gov.uk 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:
- those in self-isolation due to coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms
- vulnerable groups who are being shielded(Opens in a new window)
- community groups and local organisations
- NHS staff.
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 food.gov.uk 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 www.food.gov.uk 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 food.gov.uk 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.