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People living alone and parents sharing custody can have 'social bubbles' under new Covid-19 restrictions

The measure will permit people who live alone to interact with another household.

SO-CALLED ‘SOCIAL BUBBLES’ have been introduced under the latest level of Covid-19 restrictions.

Certain groups of people, including adults living alone and parents with shared custody arrangements, will be allowed to interact with one other nominated household under the Level 5 plans. 

“This will allow for social support beyond the caring exemptions already available,” the government said. 

Those interactions can happen indoors and the households do not have to be within 5k of each other – but the nominated household should not change during the six-week period of restrictions. 

In a statement, the government confirmed the proposal is to support people at risk of isolation including: 

  • those who live alone
  • those living alone with children under the age of 18
  • those who have shared parenting or shared custody arrangements
  • those living alone who have mental health challenges
  • those living with a partner with certain conditions such as dementia
  • those living alone who have a carer or carers to support them.

In his address to the nation this evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “I understand that social isolation and anxiety is a very real issue for many people and especially those who live alone.

“Therefore, we are including, as part of the ‘own household’ provisions, the concept of a ‘support bubble’.  

“This will allow persons living alone, parenting alone or similarly at risk of social isolation to pair with one other household as part of a ‘support bubble’.”

Speaking on Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ One, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the system was designed for one-adult households.  

However, he added that there is an exception for adults who are caring for partners who have dementia, for example, “for compassionate grounds”. 

Multiple bubbles are not allowed, and a ‘chain’ of bubbles cannot be formed. 

For example, three adults living in a house-share cannot each form an individual bubble with another house. In this scenario, the three adults would be counted as one unit, and would be limited to forming a bubble with just one other household.    

The Taoiseach told reporters at a press conference that the system has to operate on the ‘good faith’ of people. 

In the United Kingdom, the Department of Health and Social Care recently published guidance that allowed for social bubbles to be formed during the pandemic.

Social bubbles have been introduced in the UK within the last month, and were in place throughout the lockdown in New Zealand.

Separately, the guidance says that households are permitted to mix with one other household over the six-week period but only in outdoor settings (but not home gardens). 

Guidance for over-70s

In its new guidance this evening, the government urged those over the age of 70 to continue to exercise personal judgement because of their vulnerability against the virus. 

According to the fresh advice, “It is recommended that they stay at home as much as possible, limit engagement to a very small network for short periods of time, while remaining physically distanced.

“When taking exercise outdoors, it is important to maintain two metres distance from others and wash hands on returning home. It is recommended to shop during designated hours only, while wearing a face covering, and to avoid public transport.”

With reporting by Sinéad O’Carroll 

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