‘Make your choice and stick with it’

The Guardian - - News Coronaviru­s - Peter Walker Po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

The new coro­n­avirus lock­down might have un­in­ten­tion­ally sparked a wave of awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions within new re­la­tion­ships, as the gov­ern­ment told cou­ples who do not co­habit that they must either not meet at all, or else rapidly move in to­gether.

The clar­i­fi­ca­tion came from Jenny Har­ries, the deputy chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, who was asked at the reg­u­lar Down­ing Street press con­fer­ence whether cou­ples who lived apart could so­cialise at all un­der the new restrictio­ns in­tended to slow the spread of the virus.

“I’m clearly go­ing to start a new ca­reer here in re­la­tion­ship coun­selling, so I will tread very care­fully as I work through this an­swer,” Har­ries be­gan, ex­plain­ing that the prin­ci­ple of the lock­down, an­nounced on Mon­day night, was for peo­ple to stay in their house­hold units.

Un­der the new rules, peo­ple must stay at home un­less shop­ping for ne­ces­si­ties, work­ing if they can­not do this re­motely, at­tend­ing to health mat­ters, or ex­er­cis­ing – with no close con­tact al­lowed with peo­ple not in the im­me­di­ate house­hold.

The lock­down will be re­viewed af­ter three weeks, but the ex­pec­ta­tion is that there will be no sig­nif­i­cant loos­en­ing of the rules un­til May or June at the ear­li­est.

“If the two halves of a cou­ple are cur­rently in sep­a­rate house­holds, ide­ally they should stay in those house­holds,” Har­ries ex­plained.

“The al­ter­na­tive might be that, for quite a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod go­ing for­wards, they should test the strength of their re­la­tion­ship and de­cide whether one wishes to be per­ma­nently res­i­dent in an­other house­hold.”

What the gov­ern­ment did not want, Har­ries said, was “peo­ple switch­ing in and out of house­holds –it de­feats the pur­pose of the re­duc­tion in so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, and will al­low trans­mis­sion of dis­ease”.

She added: “So per­haps, test re­ally care­fully your strength of feel­ing, stay with the house­hold, either to­gether or apart, but keep it that way while we go for­ward, be­cause oth­er­wise we will not all be work­ing to­wards achiev­ing our out­come.”

If that was not clear enough Matt Han­cock, the health sec­re­tary, who was lead­ing the press con­fer­ence, added: “There you go. Make your choice and stick with it.”

The event was the first “vir­tual” press con­fer­ence held, to keep within the rules about avoid­ing all con­tact. Jour­nal­ists were able to ask questions, but did so via video link, with Han­cock, Har­ries and the third speaker, Stephen Powis, the med­i­cal di­rec­tor of NHS Eng­land, watch­ing them on a TV screen.

Adding to the dis­tanc­ing regime, the lecterns at which the three speak­ers stood were spaced much fur­ther apart than at ear­lier press con­fer­ences.

▲ Ro­mance blos­soms in Glas­gow’s Kelv­in­grove Park, yes­ter­day

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