Travel, toilets and sharing food: What safety advice should you follow when visiting friends and family?

Sophie Gallagher
Getty Images/iStockphoto

On 28 May Boris Johnson announced England had moved to the second phase of easing lockdown, meaning people can visit their friends and family from another household.

To do so they must remain outside, at a two metre distance, and in a group no larger than six people. These are the same rules for people in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon says it is safe for people to socialise in groups of eight rather than six.

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford is expected to say people in Wales can meet with others outdoors from Monday – with no upper cap on the number – although they will not be permitted to travel more than five miles to do so.

The government has warned that if this relaxation of lockdown measures across the UK results in an increase in coronavirus-related deaths or a rising in the R-number (the average number of people infected by every Covid-patient) they will be reassessed.

And given a King’s College study estimates one in seven Brits have already broken lockdown rules by being visited by friends or family at home, it is crucial people abide by safety rules. So how can people be sure they are minimising the risk of transmitting the virus when socialising?

What rules should you follow when socialising?

In some international models for lifting lockdown, people have been permitted to socialise freely with other household groups without social distancing – a strategy known as “social bubbles”. But this is not the case in the UK.

In all the devolved nations people have been reminded that just because you are allowed to see friends and family, it does not mean you can touch or be close. This includes hugging or kissing. You must maintain a two-metre (six foot) distance between members of your household and another, at all times.

You also need to stay outside where the risk of transmission is lower. This can be in either a private garden or a public park. Nowhere in the UK are you allowed to socialise indoors with other households at this time – although this is subject to change.

As well as meeting for a chat, people are also now allowed to host barbeques or garden parties, serving food (as long as they follow the social distancing rules).

How far can I travel to see them?

From Monday people in Wales will be able to see people from other households but are being told to “stay local” and cannot travel more than five miles to see people.

There are no mileage limits for how far you are allowed to drive to visit family and friends in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the general advice is to remain in your local area as much as possible.

Can I stay overnight?

Despite the easing of restrictions, staying overnight at someone else’s home is still not allowed anywhere in the UK.

Mr Johnson said: “We don’t want people to stay overnight, we don’t want people to go to other households and stay there, I’m just afraid we’re not at that stage.”

Can I use the toilet in another household?

In his speech on Thursday, Boris Johnson said the only reason you should be going inside someone else’s house is when you are walking through to get to the garden.

This was later clarified by Prof Witty saying that if someone needs to use the bathroom during their visit they should ensure they are thoroughly wiping down all surfaces afterwards.

He said: “If someone was to go into the loo because they had to do that, it’s absolutely critical that they wipe everything down, wash their hands all the way through.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that if the distance travelled to meet someone means you have to use their bathroom, then “perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it”. Although the SNP leader, like Boris Johnson, has not put a limit on distance travelled.

Can we share food?

When introducing the new rules, Mr Johnson referenced the possibility of people having BBQs or picnics with friends and family. But is it safe to share food or crockery?

Prof Chris Witty said on Thursday: “If you were to do something like a barbecue, remember that passing things from one person to another, if you haven’t washed your hands, you can transmit the virus that way. So hands, as well as distance, are absolutely critical to this.”

This should also be noted if you are making drinks or plates of food for other guests.

Can I see people who are shielding?

In his speech on Thursday Mr Johnson said owing to the lifting of lockdown people would be able to see “both parents at once, or both grandparents at once” in what he said would be a “long-awaited and joyful moment” for many.

For many the mention of “grandparents” might have been interpreted as the end of shielding for vulnerable people – but this is not the case.

Chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, said the more than one million people deemed extremely clinically vulnerable must continue shielding.

The full list of people considered extremely vulnerable include those with some types of cancer, organ transplant recipients, people having immunotherapy, people with severe asthma or cystic fibrosis or COPD, and women who are pregnant and have heart disease.

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