Britons could be allowed to reunite with loved ones using “bubble” arrangements under proposals to ease the lockdown.
Ministers are looking at ways of letting people meet up with friends and family when lockdown restrictions are eventually eased.
Under the arrangements, people will be able choose a small number of friends and family to mix with, outdoors for the time being, and will be under strict orders not to mix with anybody else.
People could also be allowed to leave their homes more often and for longer periods of time.
The proposals are being considered by the government to introduce a “new normal” to the way Britain operates socially.
When will social bubbles be introduced?
The ease in restrictions are not expected to take place just yet as the government continues to adhere to scientific advice to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In Italy, where the trajectory of coronavirus cases and deaths has been similar to the UK’s, families and friends were able to reunite as of Monday after some lockdown restrictions were eased.
More than 4.4 million Italians also went back to work after seven weeks.
Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak is around two weeks ahead of the UK’s.
How will social bubbles work?
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is involved in UK-wide decision-making through the COBRA system, unveiled a document explaining the potential new rules.
She suggested there could be a change in the rules to allow “meeting up with a small defined group” of other people in a “sort of bubble arrangement”.
The number of people they can mix with has not been decided yet, but they would not be permitted to mix social bubbles.
This could mean some family members and friends will have to face tough choices deciding which bubble they want to be a part of.
The Scottish government paper said: “We are considering if and how we could make changes to allow people to meet with a small number of others (the number is under consideration) outside their own household in a group or ‘bubble’ that acts as a single, self-contained unit, without connections to other households or ‘bubbles’.
The prime minister’s official spokesman also confirmed the possibility of easing restrictions outdoors was under consideration among ministers.
He also highlighted evidence showing “there is less likelihood of transmission of this disease outdoors than indoors”.
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Do social distancing rules apply in social bubbles?
Yes, the two-metre rule still applies when spending time with people in your bubble.
If anyone in the group experiences symptoms of coronavirus, they could be ordered to self-isolate for two weeks.
Those who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 will not be permitted to socialise in social bubbles.
“We recognise that this will become increasingly challenging as advice changes for other people,” the document adds.
“We are committed to an honest conversation with our citizens who are shielding and with their families about the support they need.”
The idea of the UK edging towards life after lockdown comes as figures showed a total of 32,375 deaths related to COVID-19 have now been registered across the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to outline a plan for exiting the lockdown on Sunday.
The first phase will involve small shops reopening alongside outdoor workplaces and the second could see the reopening of large shopping centres, with more people encouraged to go into work.
Pubs, restaurants, hotels and leisure centres will be among the last to open.