‘Make your choice and stick with it’
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