SAGE warned against 'significant unwanted effects' of support bubbles last month

12 June 2020, 20:44

Coronavirus support bubbles have been introduced in England from tomorrow
Coronavirus support bubbles have been introduced in England from tomorrow. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Government scientific advisors warned last month that "support bubbles" should not be introduced either in conjunction with social distancing measures being eased or lifted.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that "support bubbles" could be formed between two households, allowing them to interact as though they were one household, spending time together indoors, not having to follow the two-metre rule and to stay overnight.

The measures only apply to England.

However, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said last month that bubbles could create "significant unwanted effects" and should not be introduced in the short term.

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

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

It added: "Sage advised that social bubbles have the potential to create significant unwanted effects and advised against their introduction in the short term, when other distancing measures have only just been lifted or in conjunction with release of other measures.

"Sage advised strong caution concerning the introduction of social bubbling - particularly in the short term, when other distancing measures have only just been lifted or in conjunction with release of other measures.

"Sage has advised previously against making too many changes at once.

"Sage concluded that bubbling may be appropriate in limited circumstances."

The report was published on Friday, a day before adults living alone or single parents in England will be allowed to mix with one other household.

SAGE warned against the effects of "support bubbles" in May
SAGE warned against the effects of "support bubbles" in May. Picture: PA

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson said: "We are making this change to support those who are particularly lonely as a result of lockdown measures.

"It is a targeted intervention to limit the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions.

"It is emphatically not designed for people who don't qualify to start meeting inside other people's homes because that remains against the law."

Further reports to Sage, also published on Friday, warned that breaching support bubbles could lead to a "significant risk of increasing transmission".

Two reports by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) dated May 6 and May 13 said that clear messaging was needed to make sure people understood what was allowed.

It added: "In order to be effective, no person can be a member of more than one bubble, all individuals in one household must belong to the same bubble, and the bubble must contain the same individuals for the foreseeable future.

"Even small breaches of bubbles are likely to prevent their effect on slowing transmission and come with a significant risk of increasing transmission."

A report by the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), dated May 14, it said bubbling should only be phased in starting on a small scale once epidemiological conditions were right.

It added: "'Bubbles' or the creation of household connections should be approached with a high degree of caution and only phased in very gradually starting with the smallest size of connections."

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