© Almost all visits to health care setting have been banned until further notice.
The measures have come into force after authorities across the UK agreed to put all regions on 'Level 5 alert' - the highest pandemic level.
Most visits to see patients in health settings are now forbidden except for end of life visits and where out-patients are unable to attend alone.
Former health minister Jim Wells MLA said: "This will be very bad news for all those who have friends and family in hospital. "
He added: "With more and more people being vaccinated there must be a degree of flexibility for those who have had the necessary protection to visit or receive visits".
Mr Well has not had a face-to-face meeting with his wife, Grace, for over 300 days as she is in a care home due to illness.
The general guidance for hospitals from today forbids face to face visiting though end of life visits "may be considered" subject to a risk assessment and a "Covid-secure environment".
In care homes the guidance says that indoor visiting in resident's rooms will be allowed for end of life visits.
"Where the home is not in an outbreak, visiting should be facilitated where there are well ventilated designated rooms/visiting pods," it adds. "Alternatives to face-to-face visiting for all others should be provided."
The overall guidance is subject to change and will be reviewed frequently.
Meanwhile, Stormont's leaders have criticised the Irish Government for failing to share information on travellers arriving on the island during the pandemic.
First Minister Arlene Foster said repeated attempts by the Executive to access data on passenger locator forms filled out by people arriving in the Irish Republic had proved unsuccessful.
Her comments came after the Stormont Executive agreed new restrictions on international travel into Northern Ireland that will require arriving passengers to produce a negative Covid-19 test undertaken within 72 hours of departure for the region.
Decisions to introduce similar measures have already been taken in the Irish Republic as well as in England and Scotland.
Mrs Foster said she and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill would be raising data sharing directly with Taoiseach Micheal Martin to try and make progress.
She the issue was of particular concern at Christmas when a large number of people arrived into the Republic, with many then travelling north. "Unfortunately, this has been a long-running saga about travel locator forms," she said.
Ms O'Neill echoed Mrs Foster's frustration. "We've made the case on the travel locator forms on many occasions," she said.
"I certainly raised it as recently as yesterday evening with the Taoiseach."
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