Get the latest on coronavirus. Sign up to the Daily Brief for news, explainers, how-tos, opinion and more.
From Saturday, some people in England and Northern Ireland can form ‘support bubbles’ with another household.
The change to rules, announced for England by prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, mean that for the first time since the start of lockdown adults living alone or single parents living with children under the age of 18 will be able to meet with another household without socially distancing.
Eligible households can form a bubble with one other household which means they will effectively be treated as a single household for the purpose of the lockdown rules.
That means they can visit each other indoors in their homes – staying overnight if they wish – and they will not have to observe the two-metre social-distancing rule.
Health secretary Matt Hancock posted a short video to his Twitter account on Saturday announcing that the change to the rules had now come into effect, adding: “I know how hard it’s been for people living on their own, how hard it’s been for single parents, and they’ll be able to get that support.”
A similar scheme also cam into effect in Northern Ireland on Saturday morning, meaning that a person who lives alone, and can visit someone else’s private dwelling, including staying one or more nights. If they have a child or children living with them they do not qualify, but this will be reviewed on Monday.
With the rules changing so rapidly, it’s not surprising that there are plenty of questions about how exactly the ‘bubbles’ will work.
From who can benefit, to the rules for vulnerable people, here are the answers to eight questions about the new system and how it works in England.
Who will benefit?
Elderly people living alone could form a bubble with the household of an adult son or daughter enabling them to visit and even hug their grandchildren for the first time since lockdown.
Single parents could pair up with their own parents allowing them to share childcare duties and reuniting grandparents and grandchildren.
Couples who do not live together will be able to visit and to stay with each other.
If one half of a couple shares a flat or house with one or more other people, they can see their partner as long they live alone – if their partner also shares a home they cannot see each other.
And if several people share a flat or house and all have partners who live alone, only one will be able to see their partner, which could lead to some interesting conversations. This will affect large numbers of young people living in towns and cities.
What about households with two grandparents – can they now visit their children and grandchildren?
At this stage only if their son or daughter is the only adult in the other household in the bubble. And if the grandparents have two or more children who live alone, they will have to choose between them.
Downing Street has acknowledged not everyone will benefit from the change although officials have hinted a further loosening of the rules if the coronavirus outbreak continues to decline.
Can households form more than one bubble?
No. The arrangement must be exclusive with no switching of bubble partners.
Will people have to formally register these bubble arrangements?
No, it will be taken on trust. No 10 says the public has shown “great responsibility” in following the social distancing rules so far.
Is there any limit on the distance between households in a bubble?
Again no, although officials are suggesting people should try to “stay local” where possible.
What about vulnerable people who are shielding due to their age or health problems?
At the moment, officials say it is too soon for them to be able to join support bubbles.
What about parents who are separated but who currently share childcare with the children moving between the two households?
That will continue. If the parents are the only adult in the household they can form a bubble with another household – meaning the children could potentially be in two bubbles, one for each parent.
What happens if someone in a bubble develops coronavirus symptoms?
All members of both households in the bubble must self-isolate for 14 days.