Why the Welsh Government should allow lockdown support bubbles in Wales
Ifan Morgan Jones
There’s no doubt that much will be written about this lockdown in the future, both as a significant historical event but also as people recall their own memories of being stuck in limbo.
And what seems clear is that people’s experiences will be remarkably different – and not just because some will be touched by unimaginable grief while the storm will pass others by completely.
In my case, at home with my partner, a teenager, an eight and nine-year-old and a newborn, it will be remembered as an exhaustingly busy time. Some peace and quiet would, at times, have been significantly appreciated.
For others however what will be remembered is the intense, crushing loneliness of spending over three months – so far – without being within 2m of another living soul.
This isolation will no doubt have a profound impact on many people’s mental health.
Many of the Welsh Government’s announcements regarding easing the lockdown so far have concentrated entirely on making life a bit easier for people like me.
People have been allowed to visit garden centres. They have been allowed to travel five miles (a rule of thumb) and see one other household outdoors. However, so far, the Welsh Government’s regulations have not allowed any one person from one household to enter the household of another or come within 2m of someone from another household.
This has left isolated individuals or those without loves ones within five miles or so bereft of any real human contact.
These gradual changes have no doubt been popular. A YouGov poll last week showed that 69% preferred the Welsh Government’s approach and only 17% that of the UK Government in England.
And the Welsh Government can take a lot of confidence from that in terms of continuing to chart their own course. It also makes complete sense to stay a step behind other parts of the UK and wait and see whether changes results in a second peak or not before forging ahead with their own changes.
However if they’re going to stay on the right side of public opinion the Welsh Government need to ensure that their own plans maintain an internal logic.
Three new changes to the lockdown have been briefed for Friday:
- Re-opening non-essential shops where social distancing can be maintained.
- Re-opening schools from June 29 to allow pupils to “check in” ahead of the autumn term.
- Relaxing further restrictions on more outdoor activity.
It is the first item on this list that is, I think, the most significant.
If the Welsh Government allow people to shop at non-essential stories they should also take steps to allow isolated individuals to enter another household.
Otherwise the internal logic so important to maintain public support in Wales will begin to break down.
For instance, it would mean that a grandmother would be allowed to see her family indoors at Debenhams but not under her own roof. That just doesn’t make sense.
And as the five-mile rules doesn’t currently apply to shopping, it would also mean that you can travel further than five miles to buy a new pair of jeans but not to see loves ones. Again this doesn’t make sense.
The concept of a ‘support bubble’ introduced elsewhere seems to be a good one. It means that adults living alone or single parents living with children under the age of 18 can form a bubble with one other household.
This means they will effectively be treated as a single household for the purpose of the lockdown rules.
They can visit each other’s homes and stay overnight if they want. They will also not have to observe the two-metre social distancing rule.
So for instance if two people who are in a relationship have been living alone and have not been allowed to enter each other’s homes for months, they would be allowed to do so.
If an elderly relative has been living alone and has not seen the family for months, they would be allowed to visit.
This change has been introduced elsewhere, most notably perhaps in Northern Ireland where the R rate, as in Wales, remains low compared with the rest of the UK.
This isn’t about following any other part of the UK or adopting a joint approach. This is about doing what is best for Wales under the circumstances.
I’m not writing this as someone particularly keen to see the lockdown unwind. In fact I might be called something of a lockdown ‘hawk’. I called for a stricter lockdown and the cancelling of large gatherings before they were eventually implemented.
And I have never felt that the lockdown actually went far enough, and that we are now suffering the consequences in not being able to reopen earlier as those who took stricter measures earlier are now able to do. If we had done that lockdown support bubbles wouldn’t be needed.
But we are where we are. The lockdown Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again. We can’t change the past but we can do what is best for Wales in the present.
Where we are is three months into lockdown with no real end in sight and facing restrictions for the long-haul. And in the long-run forcing people living alone to stay in complete isolation isn’t feasible.
I’m one of the lucky ones to have a family with me at home. But the thought of some living alone facing another three weeks just to know whether they can hug one other person is troubling.
A careful and controlled introduction of support bubbles would go a long way to easing that agony for many.