Level 5: What is a social bubble and who can have one?
New measures come into effect from midnight on Wednesday.
On Monday night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that the entire country will be moving to revised Level 5 restrictions this week to tackle the spread of Covid-19.
This lockdown will be similar to Ireland's first, as tighter measures will lead to the closure of all non-essential retail and travel will be restricted to within a 5km radius of one's home.
There are, however, some differences to total lockdown this time around. Schools and childcare facilities will remain open, and the introduction of social bubbles (or support bubbles) will ensure that some vulnerable members of society are not subjected to total isolation during this time.
So, what is a social bubble?
Under the current restrictions, home visits are banned and people are only permitted to meet with one other household outside for exercise.
However, people living alone or parenting alone will be allowed to form a social bubble with one other household. This will allow the households to link (irrespective of the 5km rule) for support during this time.
Social bubbles have previously been introduced in countries like the UK and New Zealand. As the latter moved through lockdown stages, social bubbles were expanded from a person's household to include relatives and close friends.
“People must stay within their household bubble but can expand this to reconnect with close family, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people," reads the New Zealand government website.
"It’s important to protect your bubble if you extend it. Keep your bubble exclusive and only include people where it will keep you and them safe and well.”
The UK recently adopted this approach too, with the government stating that those living and parenting alone could form a bubble with another household whom they can have close contact with.
Different to Ireland's social bubbles, the UK discouraged travel to link with another bubble and suggested that social bubbles be local.
Who can have a social bubble?
As above, social bubbles have been introduced for people who are living alone or parenting alone.
According to the government, bubbles are reserved for the following households:
- single adult households
- those who have shared parenting or shared custody arrangements
- those who are living alone and have mental health challenges
- those who are living with a partner with certain health conditions, such as dementia
Households that pair with each other should not change their bubble for the six weeks that Level 5 is currently in place.
How many people can be in a social bubble?
Ireland's social bubble system is currently restricted to two households, with one household fitting any of the above criteria.
This could mean anything from one person living alone pairing with a household of four, or a single parent with two young children pairing with a household of two.
Social bubbles work under the assumption that these households will not be mixing with any other households.
A review of New Zealand’s social bubble approach by the London School of Economics showed that the system helped vulnerable people and those with childcare needs from feeling totally isolated during lockdown.
Level 5 restrictions come into effect at midnight on Wednesday.