The Government’s guidelines for young couples suck, and they need to sort it out

An investigation into what the Covid rules actually say about couples who don’t live together


The Government’s guidelines under tiers two and three regarding social distancing for young couples who live in different households are unclear.

The Nottingham Tab’s investigation shows that The BBC, FullFact and The Independent do not agree what the new tier system means for couples in different bubbles; the Prime Minister’s spokesperson didn’t give a straight answer.

And The Mirror reported that you might be able to get a quick shag in – although your partner might have to leave the house immediately after.

So what now?

Can you touch your partner when you meet? Depends who you ask.

The problem

Young people, especially university students, are among the most likely demographic to not live with their romantic partner, and they’ve been left in the dark over tier two and three rules.

September marked a huge Government U-Turn; couples don’t need to socially distance, they confirmed. But come October, the new tier system was announced – without any details over whether the previous rule of couples not having to socially distance remained.

The Government’s rules on tier three and tier two on the official website say nothing about couples at all. And this has launched journalists and couples alike into much confusion, leading to vastly different interpretations of the law.

Most reporters agree you can’t meet your partner indoors.

An analysis of the new rules

On October 15th, the BBC said you don’t have to socially distance from your partner and they have made no subsequent comment about those exempt from social distancing in their main article regarding the system of tiers.

Yet, on October 16th, the The Independent reported that, in both tiers two and three, it is illegal to have sex with your partner. They say you must stick to social distancing and only meet outside. They also re-affirmed this position on October 23rd, along with  The Telegraph and Evening Standard.

To back up their conclusion, The Independent use the following quote from Boris Johnson’s spokesperson, taken from a press conference following the announcement of the new system: “The rules on household mixing in tier two [and three], I think, set out that you should mix with your own household only unless you’ve formed a support bubble, and that obviously does apply to some couples.”

But even he – the Prime Minister’s spokesperson – does not seem to be fully convincing. And when further prompted by reporters to clarify whether social distancing applies to couples, he stated, “people should follow social distancing”; this seemingly meant to imply yes. Though, again, he avoided saying it outright – the reason as to why open to speculation and, once again, unclear.

For some, that may settle the debate: everyone, including couples, must socially distance. But, for others, it might raise the question: is that actually what the written rules say? And if the rules are meant to say couples have to distance, why won’t the Government say it unequivocally?

Is meeting outdoors and touching allowed? Maybe.

An independent review from FullFact muddies the waters of understanding further.

In their review of the official rules on October 16th, FullFact, despite being uncharacteristically vague in their conclusion on the matter, initially suggest that you don’t need to socially distance from your partner: “Government guidance that applies to all alert levels [AKA tiers] says you do not need to socially distance from anyone in your household or support bubble, or anyone you are in an ‘established relationship’ with.”

As for the BBC, their stance remains unclear too. They could have presumed the couples’ exemption to social distancing is gone and consider their previous article about said exemption outdated. But this would be curious, seeing as they continue to link it in their recent articles.

Maybe they omitted mentioning the topic in their new explanations on tiers two and three because they haven’t got a clue either.

All this put simply: the rules are confusing and, on paper, conflict with one another.

Within twenty-four hours, there were three different versions of the law reported by three respectable sources. They all agree that, if you’re a couple in tier one, you can do whatever you like, wherever you like. But, tiers two and three? Opinions over the specifics are ambiguous.

Can you drink outside with your partner in tier two?

Meanwhile, in other interpretations, Dr Mike Tildesley, speaking to The Mirror, suggests that, technically under the law, you could be able to have quick shag indoors (but, importantly, that you wouldn’t be able to kiss) and then, presumably, have to leave the house immediately. Which, frankly, is one of the most ridiculous things we’ve ever heard.

And over on social media, the popular Instagram profile, Simple Politics, thinks “established lovers” in tier three don’t have to socially distance but that they cannot meet in private. An interesting interpretation, which we can understand the origin of: everyone has to meet outside in a specific public area (taken from the strict tier three rules regarding location); social distancing not required for couples. Yet this presumes the Government’s old exemption ruling stands. Which, again, is the question no one seems to agree on.

But the Government and its website are yet to issue a clear ruling on the issue; the last widely reported words were those of the Prime Minister’s spokesperson.

It seems as though they, they Government, are unwilling to make a definitive, indisputably clear law for couples who don’t live together – which will primarily be young couples.

Perhaps they are scared of the lash-back they’d receive if they outright forbid it again. Or, perhaps, no one in Government has raised the contradiction in the guidelines yet. Although that seems unlikely.

Most agree indoor bars are closed to couples from different households in tiers two and three.

What The Nottingham Tab have made of the tier restrictions for young couples

While some people think the tier two and three rules trump the previous exemption (that couples do not have to socially distance), others think it still applies. There does seem to be some consensus around the outdoor rule, however; couples from different bubbles (in tiers two and three) can’t meet indoors.

As previously reported, we think the safest assumption to make about the rules is: couples from different bubbles should stay socially distanced and stick to the permitted outdoor spaces.

But, if that’s the case, it would be great for both the written rules and someone from Downing Street to actually say that – clearly.