Support bubbles: What are the rules for overnight stays in tier 4?

New regions in England will be added to the tier 4 list of restrictions, as coronavirus case numbers rise across England, health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on Wednesday.

Sussex, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, including Portsmouth and Southampton but excluding the New Forest, and the remainder of Essex, moved to tier 4 on Boxing Day.

But, speaking on 30 December, Mr Hancock said the government was ready to make further changes and would be announcing the details in the House following the Brexit bill vote on Wednesday.

For those areas moving into tier 4, what do they need to know? 

Household mixing is completely banned indoors, with people permitted to meet just one person from another household in outdoor public areas. But what does this mean for support bubbles?

What is a support bubble?

Since 13 June, people in England have been allowed to form “support bubbles” – following models elsewhere in Europe and New Zealand, which was the first international example of support bubbles.

This meant people in a number of listed circumstances, these households could now freely mix with another, stay the night and not practice social distancing in their company. 

A support bubble is a close support network between one household with only one adult in the home (known as a single-adult household) and one other household of any size.

Bringing these two households together is called “a support bubble”.

The idea is that during the pandemic it is better to limit all social interactions but the government “recognises this is difficult” so by mixing with a select number of people, you will minimise potential risk. It will also make contact tracing much easier if someone does get ill.

Who does this rule apply to?

The people who can form a support bubble with another household are those that live alone (even if you have carers to visit you) or a single adult that lives alone with children under the age of 18 (on 12 June 2020).  

If you are the only adult in your household who does not need continuous care as a result of a disability.

If your household includes a child who is under the age of one or was under that age on 2 December or if your household includes a child with a disability who requires continuous care and is under the age of 5, or was under that age on 2 December.

If you share custody of your child with someone you do not live with you can form a support bubble that includes your child’s other parent.

If you are aged 16 or 17 living with others of the same age without any adults you can also form a bubble.

Who cannot form a support bubble with another household?

If you live in a household with other adults you cannot form a support bubble with another house – unless that house falls under the rules stated above.

You should also try to limit how far you travel to your support bubble – the government says you should have a household that is local wherever possible.

You are also not permitted to change your support bubble.

Does this change in the tier system?

In Covid alert level high (tier 2) you are not allowed to mix with other households indoors (you can see people outdoors in groups of six or fewer).

But you can see people if you have formed a support bubble with them. This includes in private homes, and other indoor venues like restaurants or pubs.

Households in support bubbles can still visit each other, stay over and visit public places together in tier 2 areas.

In Covid alert level very high (tier 3) the rules go further and you are not allowed to mix with other households indoors but you can meet in certain outdoor public spaces. This is the most serious category.

But, like tier 2, you are also permitted to still meet your support bubble in tier 3.

Support bubbles are eligible throughout the tiered-lockdown system, as long as they comply with the aforementioned rules of support bubbles.  

In tier 4, households cannot mix indoors with other households, but you can meet up with one person from another household in certain public outside spaces, such as parks. Again, those within support bubbles are exempt from these rules. 

Does social distancing have to be maintained in a support bubble?

Social distancing of two metres does not have to be maintained between those within a support bubble.

This means that people within their bubbles can hug, kiss, and touch.

It will also make it much easier for single parents seeking childcare to do so, given that it’s very difficult to ensure small children abide by social distancing.

This article was amended on December 30, 2020, to include all those categories of people eligible to form a support bubble at the time of publication.

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