Explainer: What are the main differences in Covid restrictions north and south?

Pubs in most parts of Northern Ireland have remained open but enforcement is tougher

The rapid increase in coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland has brought into sharp focus the differences in public restrictions introduced to suppress the virus north and south of the Border.

The surge in cases in Derry and Strabane, Co Tyrone, mirrored by increases on the other side of the Border in Donegal, led Northern Ireland's health authorities to increase restrictions in these areas, putting them broadly in line with the Level 3 restrictions in Donegal and the rest of the Republic.

In both Donegal and Derry, pubs, restaurants and cafes are only permitted to open for takeaway, deliver or outdoor dining, no organised indoor gatherings are permitted and outdoor gatherings are limited to 15 people. All museums and other indoor cultural venues are closed.

Major difference

A major difference between the North and South is that under Level 3 in the Republic a maximum of six people from one other household can visit your home, where as in Northern Ireland people from different households are not allowed to meet inside private homes.

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In the North, two households are permitted to meet in private gardens, though it is limited to six people. There are exemptions to the household rule, such as for caring or childcare needs, essential maintenance, supported living arrangements or legal or medical visits. Single-person households are also permitted to “bubble” with another household in Northern Ireland.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, outside of the Derry City and Strabane area, pubs, restaurants and cafes can all remain open with a curfew at 11pm. In the Republic, under Level 3, pubs, restaurants and cafes can only open for outdoor dining or drinking or takeaway.

This means that you cannot enjoy a pint indoors in Omeath, Co Louth, but if you drive 20 minutes north across the Border, you can drink indoors in a pub in Newry, Co Down.

Outside of Derry and Strabane in Northern Ireland, indoor gatherings of up to 15 people are permitted, in contrast to the Republic where they are prohibited under the Level 3 rules.

Unlike in the Republic, where people are told to stay in their county “apart from work, education, medical and other essential purposes, if appropriate”, in Northern Ireland people are asked to use their judgment when deciding to undertake a journey based on individual circumstances. People in Derry and Strabane are asked to avoid all unnecessary travel.

Weddings

The rules on weddings and funerals are looser in Northern Ireland, determined by the size of the venue where they are being held and whether social distancing can be observed. In the Republic, attendance at weddings and funerals is limited to 25 people under Level 3.

Enforcement powers are far stricter in Northern Ireland. In the Republic, people can receive fines of up to €2,500 or six months in prison under the 1947 Health Act but the enforcement mostly applies to people who organise events that are in breach of the coronavirus restrictions.

In the North, people can at present receive a Covid 1 fixed penalty notice for breaching restrictions with a minimum fine of £60 (€66) rising to £960 (€1,058). A Covid 2 prohibition notice, with a potential penalty of £5,000 (€5,500) upon conviction, can be issued to a licensed premises or private household to restrict gatherings such as house parties. People who fail to self-isolate can be fined £1,000 (€1,100) under a Covid 3 notice.

The Northern Ireland Executive this week proposed increasing the minimum fine for a Covid 1 offence to £200 (€220) and introducing a fixed penalty notice of £1,000, or up to £10,000 (€11,000) on conviction, for three new offences: not closing a business as ordered, breaching closing times and failing to implement social distancing.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent