‘Sex ban’: England’s Covid tiers throw new obstacles in way of romance

It has hardly been the easiest time for single people to find love, with an ever-changing profusion of rules throughout the pandemic blocking their path to meeting that special someone.

But now those waiting for Cupid’s arrow to strike have been dealt a fresh blow – as Downing Street has confirmed that couples living apart in areas under tougher restrictions can only meet outdoors, unless they are in support bubbles.

And, if the prospect of outdoor-only encounters during the bitter winter months was not grim enough, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman clarified that they are not even meant to touch each other under social distancing rules.

With more than half of England’s population set to be living in areas classed as “high ” or “very high” alert – the top two tiers of Covid restrictions – by midnight on Friday, the rules, described by some as a “sex ban”, could break the hearts of many.

Asked if couples living apart in tier 2 areas can see each other indoors, the prime minister’s official spokesman said on Friday: “The rules on household mixing in tier 2, I think, set out that you should mix with your own household only unless you’ve formed a support bubble, and that obviously does apply to some couples.”

The prime minister’s spokesman clarified that the restrictions were set out in law. According to the government, a support bubble is where “a household with one adult joins with another household. Households in that support bubble can still visit each other, stay overnight, and visit public places together.” However, if neither person in a couple lived alone, they would not be able to form a support bubble – meaning they could only meet outdoors with each other in tier 2 areas.

Quick guide

What are the three tiers of England’s Covid lockdown system?

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Tier one – medium
  • The “rule of six” applies, meaning socialising in groups larger than six people is prohibited whether indoors or outdoors.
  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work and are not counted as being part of the six-person limit.
  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.
  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered by phone or online.
  • Schools and universities remain open.
  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).
  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, and – if the rule of six is followed – indoors.
Tier two – high
  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting.
  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.
  • The rule of six continues to apply for socialising outdoors, for instance in a garden or public space like a park or beach.
  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.
  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered online or by phone.
  • Schools and universities remain open.
  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).
  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with those they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport.
  • Travel is permitted to amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but people are advised to reduce the number of journeys where possible.
Tier three – very high
  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody they do not live with, or have not formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting, private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.
  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.
  • The rule of six continues to apply to outdoor public spaces, such as parks, beaches, public gardens or sports venues.
  • Pubs and bars are only permitted to remain open to operate as restaurants, in which case alcohol can only be served as part of a substantial meal.
  • Schools and universities remain open.
  • Places of worship remain open but household mixing is not permitted.
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people attending (15 and 30 respectively) but wedding receptions are not allowed.
  • The rules for exercise classes and organised sport are the same as in tier 2. They can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport. However, in Merseyside, gyms were ordered to close when it entered tier 3.
  • Travelling outside a very high alert level area or entering a very high alert level area should be avoided other than for things such as work, education or youth services, to meet caring responsibilities or if travelling through as part of a longer journey.
  • Residents of a tier 3 area should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK, while people who live in a tier 1 or tier 2 area should avoid staying overnight in a very high alert level area.

Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

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Asked why an exemption for “established relationships” was not written into the law for those in tiers 2 and 3, Johnson’s spokesman added: “Because the purpose of the measures we’ve put in place is to break the chain of transmission between households, and the scientific advice is that there is greatest transmission of the virus indoors.”

Pressed on whether the government expects couples in established relationships meeting outdoors to socially distance, the spokesman said that the rules set out that people should “follow social distancing and the hand, face, space rules”.

The Guardian

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