New Covid-19 restrictions for parts of Northern Ireland, including Belfast and Ballymena, are to come into force this week – and are causing great confusion.
There are new social restrictions and guidance about travel and leisure.
Here, BBC News NI answers some of the many readers’ questions BBC News NI has received about the changes, and what they mean for you.
What will the law say?
The new restrictions are focused on reducing contacts between people in homes in the affected areas, says the executive.
When the law comes into effect, it will be illegal to visit someone who lives in one of the listed areas inside their home.
You will be allowed to meet them in their garden, but this is limited to six people from two households in the restricted zones.
That’s what the regulations will deal with – everything else, the executive says, is guidance.
How will it be enforced?
Legislation being drafted by the Department of Health will take effect for at least a fortnight from this week.
There will be penalties – on Monday Health Minister Robin Swann said fines ranging from £60 to £1,000 could be issued for breaches of regulations in affected areas.
Until the regulations are published later in the week, it is not clear exactly what breaches will be punishable by a fine, although we know meeting indoors will be one of them.
First Minister Arlene Foster said on Thursday she hoped people would comply immediately and rigid enforcement is likely to be a last resort.
The executive has also said it is setting up a ministerial-led group to look at compliance and enforcement issues, but no further detail has been provided about this yet.
If I live in an affected zone, can I travel outside of it?
According to the executive, yes you can.
Although the first and deputy first ministers initially advised against any “unnecessary travel” outside the areas, updated guidance from Stormont says people living in a restricted zone should avoid, wherever possible, travelling outside it for indoor household visits.
All other aspects of travel are still permitted.
And there are exemptions for indoor visits such as:
- So-called bubbling with one other household
- Caring responsibilities including childcare
- Essential maintenance
- Supported living arrangements
- Visits required for legal or medical purposes
- A marriage or civil partnership ceremony in a private dwelling where one partner is terminally ill
How are schools and travelling to work affected?
The advice is that these restrictions do not affect children going to school.
Early learning and childcare facilities are not affected either.
The executive says people living in affected zones can still leave them to travel to work.
Overall, Stormont’s approach remains that people across Northern Ireland should be allowed to work from home where possible; when this can’t be done, staff can return to the workplace so long as safety measures are being followed.
Are weddings and funerals affected?
No. The executive says marriages, civil partnerships and funerals can continue to take place in the affected areas, in line with the current restrictions.
It is up to individual venues to determine how many people they can safely hold, following a risk assessment.
People living in restricted areas will still be able to attend weddings or funerals that may take place outside of their zones.
The executive states that when it comes to going to such an event, people should use their own judgement and common sense.
Church services are not affected either.
Is it OK to travel into the restricted area for shopping or eating out?
The advice from Stormont says this is still permitted.
Unlike in March, when Northern Ireland went into full lockdown, this time businesses have not been told to close their doors and can remain open to serve customers.
The executive says it is bringing in the localised restrictions to limit indoor visits and stop the virus from spreading between people in their homes, where social distancing measures cannot be enforced.
In contrast, it says businesses such as shops and restaurants can maintain public health measures.
So people who do not live in Belfast, for example, can still travel into the city centre to shop or have a meal.
But the advice remains to act responsibly if you intend to do this, and to judge how important a planned activity is before doing it.
Why can I meet people in a pub or restaurant but not in my own home?
That will jar with many people – but Stormont says its restrictions are about trying to stem the virus spreading between people inside their own homes, where social distancing is harder to enforce.
It says hospitality businesses will continue to be subject to strict guidance, regulation and appropriate enforcement where necessary.
How is the Belfast area being defined?
The new restrictions take in all postcodes in the Belfast City Council area.
The executive says restrictions are being applied across the whole of Belfast council area because there is no part of it where incidence of the virus is low, and that it needs to reflect the level of population movement across the city, including by public transport.
The postcodes BT28 and BT29 – which take in areas to the west and south of the city, including Lisburn and the area around Belfast International Airport – are also facing localised restrictions,
There is some confusion about why some areas between Belfast and Lisburn being left out.
Lisburn is covered by both BT28 – which is included in the restrictions – and BT27, which is not.
This means areas like Lambeg and Ballyskeagh are not covered by the localised restrictions.
How is the Ballymena area being defined?
The new guidelines specify the town of Ballymena and the BT43 postcode are subject to restrictions.
The BT43 postcode covers a large area to the north and north east of the town.
There is some uncertainty about how broadly the area around the town of Ballymena should be interpreted.
It is unsure if the restrictions apply to towns near Ballymena, like Cullybackey and Broughshane.
Cranswick Country Food, a meat processing plant in Cullybackey, was the site of a cluster of Covid-19 cases in August.
What about visits to hospitals or care homes in affected areas?
Care homes and hospitals in the restricted zones are being advised to significantly scale back visits.
One member of a family will be allowed to visit once a week while the measures apply.
The executive said more frequent visits may be permitted in exceptional circumstances, including for people in palliative care facilities and those receiving end-of-life care.
Are children included in the ‘rule of six’?
In England, Scotland and Wales social gatherings of more than six people – indoors or out – have now been banned. However children aged under 12 in Scotland or under 11 in Wales do not count towards the six-person total.
In Northern Ireland, as in England, children of any age do count towards the total.
So if you live in an affected area you can’t have a gathering of more than six people from two households, including children, in your garden (and nobody can enter your home, with the exception of the exemptions lifted above).
Outside an affected area you can’t have a gathering of more than six people from two households, including children, in your home.
Can grandchildren still visit their grandparents?
If their grandparents live in an affected area then no, they cannot visit them indoors.
Do I have to shield again if I live in one of the areas?
The executive says it is not reintroducing guidance to shield, after it was paused in July.
It does however, say that medically vulnerable and older people living in the areas should be “particularly careful” in following the advice to limit household contacts and maintaining all other public health measures.
What if I live on the fringes of a restricted zone?
That is not entirely clear.
The executive says it will carry out additional work to provide any necessary clarity on the boundaries.
But until then, the guidance says that anyone in any doubt as to whether they are covered by the restrictions should follow them.
What if I don’t live in an affected area, does any of this apply to me?
People living outside of the restricted zones can continue to meet each other inside homes, with no more than six people from two households.
You can also meet a family member or friend who lives in one of the affected areas – but not inside their home or your home.
The executive has said the restrictions will be kept under constant review and areas will be added or removed from the list, depending on their Covid-19 rates.
I am travelling from England to visit family in Belfast this weekend, can I still do this?
You are still able to travel to Belfast – and other affected areas – and meet up with your family, however you cannot stay with them or visit them indoors.