Coronavirus: Lockdown eases as 'support bubbles' come into effect today

13 June 2020, 11:47

Couples who live alone and separate from one another can now stay at each other's houses
Couples who live alone and separate from one another can now stay at each other's houses. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

People in England can form "support bubbles" with other households from today to help those who are lonely as coronavirus lockdown measures are eased.

The new measure means adults who live alone will be allowed to visit one other person's house and even stay overnight without social distancing.

It means grandparents will be free to visit the house of their child and grandchildren, freeing them up to finally hug their loved ones after months of isolation.

It will also allow couples to meet once again and effectively putting an end to the government's 'sex ban'.

The new rule means that as long as one half of the couple lives alone, they can "join up" with their partner's household and visit them.

However, the policy will not apply to those who are vulnerable and shielding amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic or to adults who live apart but in households of more than one person.

Couples that both live with other people will still have to meet outside and maintain social distancing.

In England, the new 'network' rule also applies to single parents with children under 18, while Northern Ireland is adopting a similar relaxation of the regulations for people living alone.

However, the latest batch of papers released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed misgivings among the experts at the prospect of social bubbling.

Last month, Sage said bubbles could create "significant unwanted effects" and should not be introduced in the short term.

In a report of its meeting on 14 May, published on Friday, Sage advised "strong caution" to introducing social bubbling and said it could not be seen as a "universal good".

But the report added that while larger households social bubbling together posed a "significant potential risk," bubbling may be "appropriate in limited circumstances."

The move comes ahead of a further easing of lockdown restrictions in England, with the re-opening of non-essential shops on Monday.

Speaking at the government's daily press conference on 10 June, Boris Johnson said: "There are still too many people, particularly those who live by themselves who are lonely and struggling with being unable to see friends and family.

"From this weekend we will allow single adult households, that’s adults living alone or single parents with children under 18, to form a support bubble with one other household.

"All those inner support bubbles will be able to act as though they are the same household, meaning they can stay inside each other's homes and do not need to stay two metres apart.

"The changes will not apply to those who are shielding and are designed to combat loneliness."

The Prime Minister continued: "Support bubbles must be exclusive, meaning you can’t switch the household you are in a bubble with or connect with multiple."

He also clarified: "If any member develops symptoms, all members will need to follow normal advice on household isolation. We are making this change to support those who are particularly lonely as a result of lockdown. It’s a targeted intervention to limit the most harmful effects of the current restrictions."

"It is emphatically not designed for people who don’t qualify to start meeting inside other peoples homes because that remains against the law. Unfortunately, we cannot advise anyone who is shielding to form a support bubble at this stage given their particular vulnerability to the virus.