What are the rules for relationships in each lockdown tier?

Olivia Petter
·6-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Monday 12 October, Boris Johnson unveiled a new three-tier system of local lockdown measures for England to help keep the spread of coronavirus under control.

Different parts of the country have since been split up into “medium”, “high” or “very high” local coronavirus alert areas, with different restrictions in each.

The measures come after the number of coronavirus cases in England has begun to rise.

On Saturday 17 October, areas including London, Essex and York were upgraded from being on “medium” alert to “high” alert.

Thus far, the only location to be placed under “very high” alert is Liverpool.

However, there is an ongoing dispute between local leaders in Greater Manchester and the government in Westminster over plans to move the region into a “very high” alert area, which would see the closure of pubs and prevent people from multiple households mixing indoors.

But what does all of this mean for couples who do not live together and those in nascent relationships?

As there have been various changes to the rules regarding physical contact and overnight stays in recent weeks, here’s everything you need to know about how the relationship rules differ in each Tier.

Tier 1 (medium alert)

Can you go on dates?

In Tier 1, you are not allowed to socialise in groups larger than six indoors or outdoors.

However, you are allowed to meet indoors and outdoors in smaller groups, meaning those in couples can spend time together in pubs, bars and restaurants, which close at 10pm.

However, they must maintain social distancing for the duration of the date unless they live together, are in the same support bubble, or are in an “established relationship”.

Can you stay the night at eachother’s homes?

You can only stay the night at a another person’s home if you are “in an established relationship”, or they are part of your support bubble.

A support bubble is a close support network between a household with only one adult in the home (known as a single-adult household) and one other household of any size.

Once you’re in a support bubble, you can think of yourself as being in a single household with people from the other household. It means you can have close contact with that household as if they were members of your own household.

Once you make a support bubble, you should not change who is in your bubble.

What does an “established relationship” mean?

The only exception to ditching social distancing between romantic partners in Tier 1 is for those who are “in an established relationship”.

The term was first used in guidance published in September in a Cabinet Office document titled “Meeting with others safely”.

The document provides updated guidance for England on how you can mix socially, and states that, if you don’t live with your partner, or have a support bubble together, you are allowed to ditch social distancing measures as long as “you’re in an established relationship”.

However, it did not provide any further clarification on what “established” means.

But in a Q&A document it said: “If in the early stages of a relationship, you should take particular care to follow the guidance on social distancing.

“If you intend to have close contact with someone, you should discuss how you can help to prevent risks of transmission as a couple, for example, by ensuring you are both avoiding close contact with people you do not live with.”

Is sex illegal?

For those who are not in support bubbles, the same household, or in “established relationships”, sex is still seemingly off the table as social distancing is required between anyone not in your household, your bubble, or an “established relationship”.

This means that casual sex or one-night stands are not permitted, however, there is no official legislation on the matter.

You can see the full list of areas in Tier 1 here.

Tier 2 (high alert)

Can you go on dates?

In Tier 2, you can only socialise with people outside of your household or support bubble outdoors.

This means that couples can go on dates so long as they stay outside the entire time and maintain social distancing.

For example, a Tier 2 date could take the form of a walk in the park and a drink in a pub garden.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Like in Tier 1, pubs and restaurants remain open in Tier 2 but must close at 10pm.

Can you stay at eachother’s homes?

In Tier 2, it is illegal to socialise indoors with anyone outside of your household or support bubble.

This means that it is illegal to spend the night at a partner’s home if they are not in your support bubble.

Unlike in Tier 1, there are no exceptions to this rule for couples in “established relationships”.

Is sex illegal?

For people in Tier 2, sex is illegal between anyone who is not part of the same household or support bubble.

This currently applies to those in London, York and Essex.

You can see the full list of areas in Tier 2 here.

Tier 3 (very high alert)

Can you go on dates?

In Tier 3, you must not socialise with anybody you do not live with or have not formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting or in any private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.

Additionally, pubs and bars must close and can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant, which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal, and they may only serve alcohol as part of such a meal.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

You are permitted to meet up with people you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, so long as you only do so in certain outdoor public spaces and maintain social distancing.

For example, you could go on social distancing dates in parks, beaches, areas of countryside, forestspublic gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them), allotments,outdoor sports courts and facilities, and playgrounds.

Can you stay at eachother’s homes?

It is against the law to meet socially with friends and family indoors in any setting unless they are part of your household or support bubble.

This means you can only stay overnight at another person’s home in Tier 3 if they are part of your support bubble.

Is sex illegal?

Similar to Tier 2, sex is only legal in Tier 3 between couples who live together or are part of the same support bubble.

You can see the full list of areas in Tier 3 here.

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