How Ireland's Covid-19 lockdown differs from Northern circuit breaker

How does Ireland’s tough lockdown differ from Northern Irish circuit breaker? The different set of Covid rules on gyms, shops and travel

  • People in Republic of Ireland can only go within three miles of home for exercise
  • Rule doesn’t exist in Northern Ireland despite ‘unnecessary travel’ being banned
  • Irish retail groups have slammed the ‘baffling’ move to close non-essential stores
  • Hospitality chiefs in Northern Ireland fear they could face similarly stricter rules 
  • Republic will enter a second lockdown from tomorrow at midnight for six weeks
  • Northern Ireland went into its own four-week ‘circuit breaker’ from last Friday

The Republic of Ireland has imposed far stricter lockdown restrictions than those in Northern Ireland, including closing gyms, churches and non-essential shops.

People in the Republic also can only go within three miles (5km) of their home for exercise, with no such rules in the North despite ‘unnecessary travel’ being banned.

Irish retail groups slammed the ‘baffling’ move to close non-essential stores, with one saying: ‘Despite far higher infection rates, retailers in Northern Ireland continue to trade relatively normally compared to their counterparts in the Republic.’

And hospitality chiefs in Northern Ireland, where pubs and restaurants are also shut, fear they could soon face similarly stricter rules to those coming in for the Republic.

The Republic will enter a second lockdown from tomorrow at midnight for six weeks, after Northern Ireland went into its own four-week ‘circuit breaker’ from last Friday. 

Two-week half term holiday and gyms still open: Lockdown rules in Northern Ireland

  • Schools: Schools will have an extended half-term break from October 19 to 30. They will be shut to all pupils during these two weeks
  • Childcare: Can still be provided by a registered person or free of charge
  • Gyms, leisure centres and pools: Open for individual training only
  • Outdoor events: No organised events can take place with more than 15 people. Outdoor attractions, country parks and forest parks can remain open
  • Indoor events: Up to 15 people can meet indoors, except in someone’s home. There are exemptions for: a gathering in a workplace; a gathering to provide emergency or medical assistance to any person; a gathering in a place of worship for a religious activity; and elite sports.
  • Travel restrictions: People should ‘avoid all unnecessary travel’ and are asked to walk walk, cycle or use private transport where travel is necessary for work or education.
  • Public transport: Still operating with mandatory face coverings rule
  • Religious services: Places of worship remain open, with a limit of 25 people for wedding and funerals
  • Nursing homes: Care home visits are ‘recommended to be restricted’
  • Retail: All shops can remain open
  • Hotels: Accommodation can be provided for those already resident
  • Workplace: Individuals should work from home unless unable to do so
  • Sport: Indoor sport and outdoor organised contact sport involving household mixing is not permitted, other than at elite level. Outdoor non-contact sport is permitted for all, with a limit of 15 people
  • Pubs and restaurants: Can only be open for takeaway or food delivery
  • Construction: Builders can continue to go into people’s houses
  • Personal services (hairdressers/beauticians): Closed 

Churches go online but schools stay open: Lockdown rules in the Republic of Ireland

  • Schools: Primary and secondary are due to continue, third-level institutions will move operations online
  • Childcare: Creches continue to operate
  • Gyms, leisure centres and pools: Closed
  • Outdoor events: No organised outdoor events can take place under Level 5. Parks and outdoor playgrounds can remain open with protective measures in place
  • Indoor events: No organised indoor events can take place, with a special exemption for wedding ceremonies which a maximum of 25 guests can attend. People will be allowed to travel outside of their county for a wedding. Galleries and other cultural attractions all remain closed
  • Travel restrictions: People can only leave their homes for essential reasons such as work or grocery shopping or to exercise within 5km of their homes
  • Public transport: Operating at 25% capacity
  • Religious services: Online only with the exception of funerals where ten people can attend
  • Nursing homes: No visitors, unless on compassionate grounds
  • Retail: Essential retailers only
  • Hotels: Limited to existing guests and essential workers
  • Workplace: All except essential workers must work from home
  • Sport: Elite sport such as the GAA Championship and the horse racing and greyhound racing season can proceed behind closed doors. Children can continue outdoor non-contact training
  • Pubs and restaurants: Takeaway only
  • Construction: Continue with existing safety measures
  • Personal services (hairdressers/beauticians): Closed 

Retail Excellence, the largest retail body in the Republic which represents more than 2,000 firms, has been left fuming at the Government’s lockdown announcement.

Its managing director Duncan Graham said last night: ‘Retailers have been contacting us throughout the day extremely concerned and upset at closing their business for six weeks at the most important trading period of the year.

”Non-essential’ retailers generate over 70 per cent of annual turnover over this quarter and these further restrictions will inevitably push many more businesses into insolvency.’

He gave seven reasons it was a ‘baffling decision’, including that retailers have ‘invested heavily’ in making premises safe this year and have been ‘fully compliant with all government guidelines’.

Mr Graham added: ‘Despite far higher infection rates, retailers in Northern Ireland continue to trade relatively normally compared to their counterparts in the Republic.

‘No other European country has locked down retail in the way this government has done with retailers in Ireland.’

A woman wears a face mask as she walks past a pub in Dublin in the rain yesterday

People enjoy a drink outside a pub in Dublin yesterday before the new lockdown came in

He said the group estimates more than 60,000 retail employees will lose their jobs as a result of the new measures, joining the 30,000 retail workers who have already been laid off this year.

How the Republic of Ireland reached Level 5

October 1: In a letter to Government, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) says that: ‘On balance, the NPHET agreed that while the current trajectory of the disease is very concerning, the current epidemiological data does not strongly support a move to Level 3 nationally at this time.’ 

October 2: Dr Holohan arrives at the Department of Health for a lunch to mark the end of Dr Ronan Glynn’s tenure as Acting Chief Medical Officer in his absence. During this engagement, Dr Holohan holds a series of ‘impromptu meetings’ with NPHET colleagues where they discuss the levels of transmission. He is not due to return to work until Monday. 

October 3: Dr Holohan continues to hold meetings with NPHET officials and calls an unscheduled NPHET meeting for the next day. October 4: NPHET recommends the entire country is placed into Level 5 lockdown for four weeks. 

October 5: Government instead opts to move the country to Level 3. 

October 14: The Government announces it will move three border counties – Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan – into Level 4. 

October 15: The NPHET recommends that the Government moves the country into a Level 5 lockdown for a period of six weeks. 

Yesterday: After a weekend of intensive deliberations, the Cabinet finally decides to accept NPHET’s advice and place the country into Level 5 lockdown. 

There are also concerns over a ‘frenzied shopping experience in the final weeks before Christmas’ if retailers are allowed to open on December 1.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, told MailOnline he was concerned that the rules coming in for the Repbulic could also be imposed on Northern Ireland.

He said: ‘It is a huge concern of us that we go for another lockdown or extend this one. Just continuously locking down is not going to solve this because we’re not being clever.

‘I’m not a scientist – I respect our medical people, I know they’re saying this is science led, but we need it to be data led, we need to get our track and trace right, we need to get our data right.’

He added: ‘It is a worry of mine that we look at it and think, well you know what, we’ll all have to go there.’

Mr Neill added that financial packages have to be a ‘key consideration’, adding: ‘If you deprive people of their livelihood you can’t expect them to live on fresh air.’

In a sombre message to the public last night, Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin admitted the Level 5 announcement would bring a ‘sense of disappointment, loneliness and despair’ for many.

However, he said there is ‘light’ and ‘hope’ at the end of the tunnel as he urged the nation to ‘pull together’ and follow the rules to suppress the virus over the next six weeks so that families will be able to have a ‘meaningful Christmas’. 

Not ruling out further lockdowns, he called on the nation to ‘dig deep and persevere’, saying the ‘future is in our hands’ but that everyone must take the threat of Covid-19 seriously.

The restrictions – which will see non-essential businesses close, and pubs, cafes and restaurants only allowed to offer takeaway and delivery services – will remain in place until December 1.

Mr Martin said the Government was introducing Level 5 restrictions for the entire country because ‘the evidence of a potentially grave situation arising in the weeks ahead was now too strong’.

In his address to the nation at Government Buildings last night, Mr Martin said: ‘The days are getting shorter and colder but I ask you to remember this: even as the winter comes in, there is hope. And there is light.’

A market trader wearing a visor stands next to her fruit and vegetable stall in Dublin yesterday

A barber wearing a face mask cuts a customer’s hair inside a barber’s in Dublin yesterday

He added: ‘It won’t be the same Christmas that we have enjoyed in years past, but if we all pull together and follow the spirit of these new rules, it will be a very special time and will give us all some respite from the hardship of the last seven months. 

‘If each of us does what is asked of us for a period of just six weeks, we will suppress this virus and we will emerge from these restrictions on December 1.’

He said schools and creches would remain open because ‘we cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease’. The Taoiseach added: ‘They need their education.’

On the subject of Covid outbreaks in schools, he said: ‘NPHET are saying transmission rates are very low [in schools], they are safe places.

‘We will provide more resources to ensure schools can cope. Whatever is required.’


The prospect of thousands more people forced out of work as a result was met with criticism from some quarters. However, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be restored to the higher level of €350 for any workers who earn €400 or more a week.

No facemask, Leo? Now that was ‘not thought through’ 

Leo Varadkar broke Covid-19 guidelines by not wearing a mask while seated beside his driver after leaving Government Buildings at the weekend.

The Tánaiste – who infamously said that Dr Tony Holohan’s advice to go to Level 5 two weeks ago was ‘not thought through’ – was pictured openly flouting the rules on mask-wearing on Sunday night.

One rule for him… Tánaiste Leo Varadkar with his driver after leaving Government Buildings in Dublin on Sunday

The images emerged after a meeting involving Coalition top brass to discuss additional Level 5 restrictions following advice from NPHET.

Two public health experts said the Tánaiste – who is himself a former doctor – broke the Covid-19 guidelines, as he was within two metres of his driver and was not wearing a face covering or mask. His driver, however, did take the precaution.

Professor Anthony Staines told the Irish Daily Mail Mr Varadkar was not helping the public health message by breaking pandemic rules. He said: ‘From a messaging point of view, I think every opportunity that any of our politicians take to wear a mask in public is helpful because part of it is about normalising the idea that you are wearing masks to protect yourself and others.

‘We have seen a lot of our politicians not wearing masks. But, I think the message should go to our politicians and others in the public eye that you should wear a mask when possible because it is part of normalising mask-wearing… I know that the Tánaiste has Garda protection so that guard may well be with him almost all the time and may, in effect, be part of his household.’

Beaumont Hospital infectious diseases consultant Professor Sam McConkey did not comment on Mr Varadkar specifically, but did say you must wear a facemask when you are within two metres of someone.

‘Once you are within two metres of someone you don’t live with, you are supposed to be wearing a mask,’ said Professor Sam McConkey.

Prof. Staines went on to say he hopes the Government introduces a rule whereby masks are mandatory at all times outside the home.

A spokeswomen for the Tánaiste said Mr Varadkar ‘makes every effort to comply with the public health guidance when and where it applies’. 

Reacting to the news last night Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, said the move to nationwide Covid Level 5 restrictions was a serious blow to the many ‘non-essential’ retailers that would have to close.

Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon said: ‘Many retailers are facing into a deeply uncertain Christmas trading period. Many thousands of businesses will have to close and tens of thousands of retail workers will be out of work.

‘It is important that customers support affected businesses through online and click-and-collect services where possible.

‘While important Government supports are in place, those retailers without a developed online offering are particularly exposed.

‘The restoration of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will provide important support to many and is very welcome. 

‘It is crucial that these measures work and we are in a place to reopen retail in advance of Christmas. We simply cannot contemplate serious rolling restrictions into the future.’

The Taoiseach added last night: ‘We want to go to Level 3 on December 1. Obviously want to get to R-number [reproduction rate] consistently below 1.

‘We want to see a downward trajectory of cases in terms of the incidence rate.’

Last night 1,031 further Covid-19 cases were confirmed, which was particularly high for a Monday.

Under the new measures, people will be asked to restrict their movements to within a 5km radius of their homes with gardaí given powers to issue fines to those caught breaching travel restrictions.

Exemptions on this will apply to essential workers, such as nurses.

A memo will be brought to Cabinet today by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly with details of the graduated fines.

One Cabinet source told the Irish Daily Mail: ‘There was a feeling that enforcement was needed around travel. Public compliance simply isn’t at the levels it was at back in March.’

No social or family gatherings are allowed in homes or gardens, but visits on compassionate grounds and for caring purposes can continue. People from one other household are also permitted to meet outdoors for exercise.

The Taoiseach added that social isolation and anxiety were very ‘real issues’ and therefore those living alone or parenting alone would be able to pair with another household as part of a ‘support bubble’. However, a social bubble with one other household can be outside the 5km travel limit.

Unlike the previous lockdown, construction will also be allowed.

Elite level sports will also be able to continue. Golf courses will be closed. And most non-essential retail, hairdressers, barbers and salons will have to close.

Attendance at weddings will be maintained at 25 guests. Funerals will be limited to ten people.

The public will continue to be asked to work from home, except for essential workers.

Those aged over 70 and the medically vulnerable are advised to stay at home and continue to exercise personal judgment. They should limit engagement to a very small network for short periods of time

The prevalence of Covid-19 cases has been particularly high in some of the border counties 

In recognition of the impact of restrictions on children, non-contact training can continue for school-aged children, outdoors, in pods of up to 15.

All other training activities should be individual only.

The measures implemented follow a record number of cases recorded over recent days.

Last night the total Covid cases in Ireland passed the 50,000 mark.

The Cabinet was yesterday forced to bow to pressure from public health chiefs who last Thursday recommended a Level 5 lockdown for six weeks as cases surge.

Customers enjoy a Guinness outside Bittles bar in Belfast last Friday before pubs were shut

People drink outdoors in Belfast last Friday before the new rules came in for Northern Ireland

It was the second time in a fortnight that National Public Health Emergency Team officials had advised the Government to move to the highest level of measures. The Government did not heed the previous advice. Instead they placed the entire country into Level 3 restrictions.

How are other countries handling the rise in Covid cases? 

Here’s a look at the restrictions imposed – or loosened – elsewhere:


President Emmanuel Macron announced a 9pm-to-6am curfew for nine cities across France last week as new daily infections peaked at more than 30,000.

The measure came into force on Saturday and is due to last at least four weeks, affecting almost 20 million people.


German chancellor Angela Merkel has urged people to avoid unnecessary travel, cancel parties and remain at home wherever possible.

Covid-19 case numbers have rapidly climbed over recent weeks, setting a new record of 7,830 on Saturday.


Restaurants and bars can only operate with table service after 6pm, but can stay open until midnight. Daily infections in Italy have doubled in a week to more than 10,000.


As of last Wednesday, bars and restaurants were closed and the sale of alcohol after 8pm was banned.

Czech Republic

Restrictions include a ban on sports competitions, the closure of bars and restaurants and gatherings limited to six people.


Restrictions in Melbourne allowing people to travel 5km from home have been increased to 24km. Outdoor gatherings of up to ten people from two households are allowed.

And last night, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar commented on his previous remarks about the NPHET advice not being ‘thought through’.

He said of his earlier criticism of NPHETs advice to move to Level 5: ‘I was very critical of NPHET. I wasn’t very critical of Dr [Tony] Holohan, although some tried to say I was. I was critical of the way the recommendation was landed on the Irish people… and that it wasn’t thought through… the criticism was valid at the time.

‘What’s changed, we tried Level 3, I think it was worth trying. It doesn’t look like it has worked in Dublin… We had a chance to think things through.’

Speaking on Claire Byrne Live last night, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly also defended the Government’s inaction on NPHET’s advice two weeks ago to go Level 5. He said: ‘We had a Level 2 recommendation from NPHET on a Thursday evening and then we had a Level 5 recommendation 72 hours later. The country would not have been ready, we had no indication that was the case.

‘The timing of six weeks is new. There was modelling done to show how we get out of this, we now have an exit strategy. The Oireachtas has also been put on stand-by to pass emergency legislation to put rent freezes and eviction bans into law. TDs last night were told to prepare to sit throughout the weekend to push through the legislation.

Sources told the Mail that Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien will today bring a memo to Cabinet to introduce a moratorium on evictions. The legislation will stipulate the ban stays in place for the period of the Level 5 lockdown.

The Government is now bracing to provide supports to 200,000 extra people who will be out of work due to the new restrictions.

Last night’s briefing heard moving to Level 5 is costing €200million a week – €1.5billion for six weeks, not taking into account for potential fall in revenue.

But both Minister Donnelly and the Taoiseach did not rule out further lockdowns after December 1.

‘I think we will have Covid-19 with us for the entirety of 2021… Don’t rule out the levels going back up again and the restrictions in the next six months… When we reopened from the first lockdown we got a reasonable stretch,’ Mr Martin said last night.

Mr Martin said the Government cannot stop the virus on its own. ‘There are no laws or powers that can change the nature of this virus,’ he said. 

‘Many people have done everything that has been asked of them. But some have not. As Taoiseach I am asking everyone again to take this threat seriously.’

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