Expanding social bubbles during COVID-19
Earlier this month the prime minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation and tabled the idea of a roadmap to lead the country out of lockdown and restart the economy. In the subsequent days following this speech the government has released lots of guidance to businesses and individuals. The roadmap itself is a 130 paged document setting out all the phases and goals hoped to achieved. It can be downloaded here.
One element of this roadmap sets out how households may be able to expand. There are many people up and down the country who are living alone and face high levels of depression and anxiety as a result. There are also millions of people who have been cut off from extended family. Parents unable to see children, grandparents unable to hug their grandkids. The Government has recognised this and so within the Roadmap there is a section under “Phase 2” (set to start on 1 June if all goes to plan) entitled “Social and Family Contact”. Below is an extract from the Roadmap document on this area:
“Social and family contact
Since 23 March the Government has asked people to only leave the house for very limited purposes and this has been extraordinarily disruptive to people’s lives. In particular this has affected the isolated and vulnerable, and those who live alone. As restrictions continue, the Government is considering a range of options to reduce the most harmful social effects to make the measures more sustainable.
For example, the Government has asked SAGE to examine whether, when and how it can safely change the regulations to allow people to expand their household group to include one other household in the same exclusive group. It is not OK to be in multiple household groups: if Household A merges with B, Household B cannot also elect to be in a group with Household C. This would create a chain that would allow the virus to spread widely.
The intention of this change would be to allow those who are isolated some more social contact, and to reduce the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions, while continuing to limit the risk of chains of transmission. It would also support some families to return to work by, for example, allowing two households to share childcare.”
What is clear from this is that if and when households are allowed to expand their social bubble, difficult choices will need to be made. For example, if Household A contains the only grandchild of the family it is natural that both sets of grandparents would want to see their grandchild. However, only one household could be selected meaning that one set of grandparents would have to wait longer to physically see and hug their grandchild. This will be a difficult decision for the parents of the child to make.
Whilst we would all welcome the chance to expand our social bubbles, we must be cautious in doing this too soon and too quickly. No one wants to see a second spike of cases or for lockdown to continue any longer than it needs to. The important message is for everyone to stay safe.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.