Family reunions as Scotland’s ‘cautious’ easing of lockdown begins

Scots who live alone such as grandparents and non-cohabiting couples will be allowed to become part of “extended household groups” from today as part of the latest move to ease the coronavirus lockdown.

Face coverings are to become compulsory  on all public transport
Face coverings are to become compulsory on all public transport

For the first time in four months they will be able to enter a loved one’s home and stay overnight, with no social distancing measures in place.

The “support bubbles”, as they have been dubbed, were announced by Nicola Sturgeon yesterday and will mean that anyone who lives on their own – or only with children under the age of 18 – can form an “extended household group” with one other household.

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The change will allow couples who do not live together and who have been separated by lockdown to be reunited and could also mean grandparents who live alone can see their grandchildren again.

People who have been shielding, with no face-to-face contact with anyone, will also be able to exercise outdoors for the first time, and even meet family or friends from one other household.

Restrictions have been eased even further for non-shielding Scots who can now meet up with two households at the same time out of doors, and can go inside someone else’s house to use the toilet – with the First Minister saying this change will “make family meetings a little bit more practical”.

But she said the risk from coronavirus is “too high” at this stage to allow more meetings indoors and warned that if anyone in the new “extended households” were to become ill with coronavirus, the whole group would have to self-isolate.

Further, no member of an extended household group can form a similar arrangement with any other household and they should not include anyone who is shielding.

Other measures announced yesterday by the First Minister to ease lockdown restrictions include:

l Shops will be able to open from 29 June if they have outdoor entrances and exits;

l Restrictions on moving house will be lifted from 29 June, and weddings will be allowed to go ahead outdoors with “limited numbers”;

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l From Monday, dentists will be able to open for emergency work and professional sport will resume, but only behind closed doors;

l Places of worship will also reopen from Monday, although only for individual prayer, not large gatherings.

However, the expected reopening of beer gardens and outside spaces at cafes and restaurants has been delayed. Industry leaders said they were “bitterly disappointed” at the delay, which Ms Sturgeon said was in light of new evidence on the spread of coronavirus.

Announcing the measures, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland had made “clear and sustained progress” and as a result the government was moving to ease the “isolation, which is one of the cruellest consequences of tackling this virus”.

She said: “I know for those shielding, the requirement to stay indoors at all times, without meeting up with anyone, has been incredibly tough. I hope that this change to our advice can provide a real improvement to your quality of life, without significantly increasing the risks you face.

“Our extended household groups will allow a grandparent who lives on their own to form a group with another household in their family, a single parent and their children to join with another household for support, and a non-cohabiting couple, where at least one of them lives alone, to be reunited.”

The move was welcomed by organisations supporting shielding groups, with Age Scotland saying it would be a “huge relief” for hundreds of thousands of older people living alone.

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Brian Sloan, the charity’s chief executive, said: “So many older people have endured lockdown without any face to face contact with family or friends for three months now, and it has been extremely difficult for them. The result of such prolonged isolation is that loneliness levels are through the roof and having a profound impact on the mental and physical health of older people. At last there is light at the end of the tunnel for our older people who have felt very cut off from society.”

However, Janice Malone of Macmillan Cancer Support, warned: “We know that many people with cancer may still feel too anxious about the risk to leave their homes, so we must ensure that any changes to shielding advice are clear and well-communicated. The vital support in place for people who are shielding must be maintained – support must be available for people if they need to continue to shield.”

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