For the third time since the pandemic began, England has been placed under lockdown restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new restrictions on the evening of Monday, January 4 after a steep rise in Covid cases, driven by a new, faster transmitting variant of the virus.
What are the main changes to restrictions?
With many areas having already been under Tier 4 restrictions, some are wondering what will change in their everyday lives under new rules.
The main change is that the Government has issued an England-wide “stay at home” order, asking people to remain at home for all but essential reasons, much like the strict lockdown called in March 2020.
For the first time since the first lockdown, schools and universities will also temporarily close until February half term, with the exception of vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
Shielding has also been recommended once again for those who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
What counts as an ‘essential reason’ for leaving home?
“Essential reasons” for leaving home include seeking urgent medical care, shopping for essentials and exercising.
If stopped by police, you must have a “reasonable excuse” for being outside your home. Without one, you can be fined.
Fixed Penalty Notices start at £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.
What does this mean for support bubbles?
You are still permitted to interact with your support bubble, including overnight stays under the new rules. Visiting your support bubble counts as a “reasonable excuse” for leaving your home.
While you are permitted to leave home to visit and stay overnight with your support bubble, the government is advising that it is best, if forming a support bubble, to form one with a household who live locally.
This guidance is intended to prevent the virus spreading from an area where there are higher case numbers.
Who can form a support bubble?
There are certain eligibility criteria for forming a support bubble. These are:
-If you live by yourself, even if you have carers
-If you are the only adult in your household who doesn’t require continuous care for a disability
-If your household includes a child under the age of one, or who was under that age on December 2, 2020
-If you are aged 16 or 17 living with others of the same age, without adults
-If your household includes a child under 5 (on December 2, 2020) with a disability requiring continuous care
-If you are a single adult living with one or more children who are under 18 or were under that age on June 12, 2020
Outside of these circumstances, it is illegal to form a support bubble.
Can I form a new support bubble?
The government advises that you should avoid changing your support bubble where possible.
However, they acknowledge that circumstances may change for you or your support bubble. Therefore, you may form a new support bubble provided that:
-Your household, or the one you are bubbling with meet at least one of the eligibility criteria for forming a support bubble
-The other household is not already part of a support bubble
If you do decide to change your support bubble, you should treat your previous bubble as a separate household for 10 days before forming a new one to prevent the spread of infection.