How To Talk To Friends And Family Breaking Lockdown Rules

And how to respond to those who call you a "stickler for the rules".

The end of lockdown is in sight, with June 21 pegged as the day we’ll get back some semblance of normality. But it seems some people are jumping the gun.

While cases of coronavirus are falling overall in England, the rate of decline has started to slow, according to Imperial College London’s React study. In some parts of the country dealing with Covid variants – such as London, the South East and the Midlands – infections are actually rising again.

Steven Riley, professor of Infectious Disease Dynamics at Imperial, urged people to do what they can to avoid spreading infections. “Given all the sacrifices we have made in the last year, now is not the time to risk returning to even higher levels of infections,” he said.

It follows concerns of “vaccine complacency” and that people are prematurely breaking lockdown because an end is in sight.

Last week, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam urged people not to run ahead of the roadmap plans.

“Look, this is all going very well, but there are some worrying signs that people are relaxing, taking their foot off the brake at the wrong time,” he said. “We are so close. Do not wreck this now. It is too early to relax. Just continue to maintain discipline and hang on just a few more months.”

So, what do you do if your friends and family have steamed ahead of the official rules? Is there a way to call for patience, without damaging your relationships longterm? It’s a careful balancing act, according to relationships counsellor Dee Holmes and psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo.

Why are people are breaking the rules?

Before flying off the handle, take a deep breath and consider why someone might be breaking the rules, advises Holmes who works with Relate.

“In some cases, it might be that they’ve misunderstood the rules,” she says. “It has become more confusing for people, because back in March 2020 we had an absolute rule and we knew where we were, but then we had tiers and different areas across the country before this lockdown.”

If you’re someone who has kept on top of the rules, repeatedly hearing that “the rules are too confusing” can feel like the ultimate get-out-of-jail card for non-compliance. But instead of hearing it as an excuse, try to consider why someone might have switched off. “The fatigue has set in,” Holmes says. “A lot of people are just finding it hard to have the energy to keep on top of it now.”

For some, the press conferences may have become like a row in a relationship, she adds. “When people continue to have the same arguments, they stop listening to their partner. So there’s an element where people may be feeling that about the briefings, too.”

How to respond if you’re asked to break rules

If you’ve been invited to a social gathering that clearly breaks the rules, such as a dinner party, turn down the invite firmly but calmly.

“Try to not personalise it and just say: ‘Sorry no, I’m not going to do that and I’m not intending to break the rules,’” advises Holmes.

Smaller digressions can cause more tension and be harder to navigate. For example, if a family member is trying to persuade you drive out of your area and visit their garden before March 29, or invites you to pop in for a quick tea, what should you say?

It can be useful to consider what’s behind the plan or invitation, says psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo. “Are they lonely and would like company, are they missing you and want to connect?” Instead of becoming accusatory, try to ask the other person what they need and how they’re feeling, then suggest other ways you might meet that need.

It can also be useful to discuss your understanding of the rules. “For example, there is much confusion around what constitutes ‘local area’ and what constitutes a support bubble when entering someone’s home,” Dr Quinn-Cirillo adds.

Turning down an invite from a friend or family member can leave you feeling guilty, especially if they’re a vulnerable or an older relative who’s said they don’t mind taking the risk. If you receive an emotive request – like “don’t I get a hug?” – Holmes recommends calmly reminding the person of the wider impact, such as the strain on the NHS.

“Say: ‘I very much would like to give you a hug, but it’s about me doing something that I think is for the greater good of society. You know I want to give you a hug, that’s the important thing,’” she suggests.

How to respond if you know about rule breaking

When you’ve been invited to break a rule, you can choose how to respond. But should you insert your opinion into the conversation when you know rule breaking is happening? For example, if your mum mentions visiting your aunt, or you’ve seen friends meet up via social media?

“I think with a lot of things, it depends about how much influence you think you might have. Use your energy wisely, for the things you can change and the things you can do,” says Holmes.

“If we invest too much time in getting into quite negative interactions with people – especially if they’re not close friends but just in your wider circle – you have to think about the potential negative impact of that interaction on you and the other people you’re supporting.”

If you can’t resist saying something, your first port of call should be asking someone if they’re aware they’ve broken a rule. Bombarding them with the latest Covid statistics or upsetting articles isn’t the answer.

And if you’re seeing this on social media, another option is to simply unfollow or mute them. “If you’re continuing to look at those Instagram stories, are you giving a message that you’re okay with it? It might be a powerful message to take that person off your list and say: ‘I don’t want to see what you’re doing, because it’s wrong and I don’t want to be a part of it, even by observing it,’” says Holmes.

Navigating the grey areas

It’s pretty clear house parties are a no-go, but families and couples are increasingly arguing about choices permitted within the rules, says Holmes.

“Those nuanced things are more difficult: should we continue to send our child to nursery? Should we continue to see the elderly parent in our childcare bubble? Those questions are very tricky.” If you’re grappling with these kinds of conversations at home, know you are not alone.

“I think it will have some lasting effects on people, where they feel like they’re in disagreement with their partners or family, where they perhaps weren’t in the past,” says Holmes. “But we have to sit down as adults and listen to the pros and cons and try to come to a decision, accepting that we are going to come at this from different sides.”

And if you’re called a ‘stickler for the rules’?

Try to ignore comments like “you’re being too safe” or “you’re being a stickler for the rules”, says Dr Quinn-Cirillo.

“It is important to stick to our own values and not be swayed by others. We are all doing this for the common good: getting back to normality again. Altruism is key,” she says.

Holmes advises shutting down the insult with positivity. Be proud of it!” she says. “Say: ‘I’m glad you think I am, because that’s how I want to be.’ It might be said as a insult, but if you take it as a compliment, that leaves no wiggle room for that conversation to go further.”