Shopping during COVID-19


Public health measures aim to minimise the spread of the virus as Ireland reopens.

The Plan for Living with COVID-19 aims to help people go about their daily lives as much as possible, while managing the behaviour of the virus. The framework sets out 5 levels that correspond to the severity of COVID-19 in a location. Different levels can be in place in different locations in the country.

At Levels 2 and 3, shops and retail services are open with protective measures in place.

At Levels 2 to 5, if you are over 70 years or at very high risk from COVID-19 you should:

  • Avoid public transport
  • Shop during designated hours
  • Keep your social contacts to a very small number of people, for short periods of time and keep your physical distance

Only essential shops and services remain open at levels 4 and 5. At level 5, you can travel further than 5 kilometres of your home to do food shopping. You can read more about the Plan for living with COVID-19.

It is especially important that you keep to guidelines on physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory hygiene.

This document gives practical information and advice on how to shop safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes information on what shops are open, how to plan your shopping to avoid unnecessary journeys and how to shop safely for you or for someone else.

What shops are allowed to open?

Retail shops, retail units in shopping centres, and other retail services are allowed to open.

At level 4 and 5, only essential shops and services should open. You can read:

Shopping centres must make sure that people do not gather at benches, fountains or food courts. Seating may be temporarily removed. Shopping centres should follow the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) COVID-19 Shopping Centre Recovery and Protection Guide (pdf). This guidance on the reopening of shopping centres provides help with:

  • Implementing physical distancing measures
  • Introducing queue management systems
  • Managing restroom usage, car parking facilities and other common areas like lifts, escalators and walkways

Opening times in shops should be staggered to relieve pressure on public transport.

Retail shops should offer dedicated hours to:

Wearing a face covering when shopping

You must wear a face covering in shops, supermarkets, shopping centres and other retail settings unless you have a reasonable excuse not to do so. This does not apply to children under the age of 13.

Reasonable excuse includes situations where you:

  • Cannot wear a mask because of a physical or mental illness or disability
  • Need to communicate with someone who has difficulty communicating
  • Removed your face covering because you had to provide emergency assistance to someone or you had to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
  • Removed your face covering to take medication
  • Removed your face covering to avoid harm or injury

Under the regulations (pdf) you will be committing an offence if:

  • You refuse to wear a face covering without a reasonable excuse or
  • You ignore a request to wear a face covering

The punishment is a fine of up to €2,500 or a term of up to 6 months imprisonment, or both. These regulations are in place until at least 9 November 2020.

Planning your shopping

Supermarkets have been designated “high-risk” sites of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Irish Global Health Network (IGHN) has advised that you should reduce the number of your shopping trips to minimise your risk of exposure to the virus. You can travel further than 5 km from home to do food shopping as part of level 5 restrictions.

You must wear a face covering in shops, supermarkets and shopping centres.

Before you go shopping, you should consider:

  • Am I well enough to go shopping?

    If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you must not go out. You should self-isolate and other people you live with should restrict their movements. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Your GP will assess you over the phone. If they think you need to be tested for COVID-19, they will arrange a test.

  • Am I potentially vulnerable, and if so, could I ask someone else to shop for me?

    The HSE has published a list of people who should stay at home and isolate, or ‘cocoon’, to protect themselves from COVID-19. If you are advised to cocoon, you must stay at home and make alternative arrangements to get your food and medical supplies.

  • Do I need to shop today?

    Make a list of what items you have at home and plan your meals according to when they go out of date. This will help you avoid making unnecessary trips.

  • Have I planned my shopping?

    Before you go shopping, make a list of what you need to buy so you can do your shopping more quickly. RTÉ has published useful advice on how to plan your shopping during COVID-19.

  • Could I shop online?

    You can shop online with many shops and supermarkets and have it delivered direct to your door or collected at a designated collection point. If you are food shopping and you are fit and well, it is recommended that you go to a local retailer to shop, or collect your online shopping to ensure that home delivery slots are available to those who need them most.

How to shop safely

You should only use shops that have measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. Things to look out for include:

  • Staff controlling the entry and exit of customers to limit overcrowding
  • Facilities available to clean and sanitise trolleys and baskets between use
  • Provision of hand sanitisers (with a minimum alcohol content of 60+%) at entrances and exits
  • Clear marking on floors to help customers keep to physical distancing measures
  • Posters and public address systems reminding customers and staff to keep to physical distancing measures
  • Staff practicing social distancing on the shop floor
  • Staff wearing a face covering where social distancing is difficult
  • Staff cleaning critical contact areas such as screens on self-service checkouts and debit card PIN pads
  • Baked foods (such as bread, croissants, scones) covered to protect from sneezes and coughs
  • Sneeze shields in place to protect staff at service counters and checkouts
  • Customers being encouraged to use contactless payment rather than cash
  • Separate shopping times for vulnerable people, such as the elderly
  • Depending on the layout of the shop, facilitating a one-way system for shoppers (as many supermarket aisles do not allow for social distancing measures)

How can I shop safely in a supermarket?

Many retailers, such as SuperValu, Centra, Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl, now operate priority shopping times for elderly and vulnerable customers to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus. These special hours are usually in the morning but you should check with your local store. There may also be special arrangements for health care workers.

You must wear a face covering in supermarkets, shops and shopping centres.

Safefood has published useful guidance on how to shop safely for groceries during the COVID-19 emergency period. While shopping you should:

  • Take your own shopping bags and, if possible, put items directly into the bags and avoid contact with baskets or trolleys.
  • Sanitise your hands when you enter the store, ideally with your own sanitiser or, if available, that provided by the store. Avoid contact with surfaces as much as possible.
  • If using a basket or trolley to shop, sanitise its handle. It is not recommended that you wear disposable gloves as they can give you a false sense of security and your hands can get contaminated when you take them off.
  • Try to use your non-dominant hand to pick goods up and avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Most people are far more likely to touch their face with their dominant hand.
  • Keep a safe physical distance of 2 metres from all other shoppers and staff – this includes routes into and out of the store. If someone comes too close to you, calmly and politely remind them of physical distancing requirements.
  • Avoid staying in the shop for any longer than necessary by stopping to chat with staff and fellow shoppers
  • Avoid shopping in groups and, where possible, you should avoid taking your children to the shop.
  • Make a contactless payment (if possible). The contactless payment limit has increased from €30 to €50 with effect from 1 April 2020.
  • Sanitise your hands on leaving the shop (if possible) and again when you get into your car (if travelling by car).

When you get home from the shop, you should:

  • Immediately wash your hands.
  • Put your shopping away as normal. You should always put away your shopping as soon as you get home, especially perishable foods which must be stored in the fridge or freezer.
  • It is not necessary to sanitise the outside of food packaging. While there is some evidence that the virus can survive on hard surfaces, the risk from handling food packing is very low and there is no evidence that the illness can be transmitted in this way.
  • Wash your hands again after you have put your shopping bags away. It is not essential to sanitise surfaces or shopping bags, but if you do, follow the manufacturer’s instructions about how much time is needed before wiping the sanitiser off.

Shopping for older and vulnerable people

You can support family members, friends and neighbours who are advised to cocoon by shopping on their behalf. If you suspect a friend, relative or member of your local community needs help getting essential food and household items, you should get in touch to see how you can support them.

If you are shopping for a vulnerable person you should leave the shopping on the doorstep, ring the bell or phone them and stand back while they collect it.

The 5 retail banks (AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC, Permanent tsb and Ulster Bank), all have a dedicated freephone helpline to help you if you are cocooning and you need to access your funds. You can find out more in the BPFI Guide to Cocooning during COVID-19 (pdf).

You can find out more about local services through the Alone National Helpline. You can contact ALONE 7 days a week from 8am–8pm on 0818 222024.

You can get more information and advice in our documents on Cocooning during COVID-19.

Page edited: 20 October 2020