By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |

Updated: October 17, 2020 9:04:51 pm

A couple walk through upturned pub seating in King Street in Bristol, England. Photograph: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

As part of its strict new Covid-19 lockdown strategy to control rising infection rates, the UK government has said that couples living apart in high-risk areas will no longer be able to meet indoors — a rule, which is widely being described as a “sex ban”.

Couples and single people will be permitted to meet outdoors in some hotspots, but are expected to comply with social distancing norms and are strictly forbidden from touching one another, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson told The Guardian on Friday.

According to the new rules, the only way people can meet during the lockdown is if they reside together already or are part of the same ‘support bubble’. With more than half of England’s population presently living in high and very high-risk zones, many residents fear that sex may be off bounds over the next few months.

But, what do the new lockdown restrictions have to do with couples?

According to the government’s new system, different areas have been divided into three categories —Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 — based on the number of recorded Covid-19 cases. Of these, Tier 2 and Tier 3 include high and very high-risk areas while Tier 1 covers all medium-risk locations.

Under the new rules, socialising in high and very high-risk zones has been restricted to a great extent. Here, people are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or ‘support bubble’ in any indoor setting. The ‘rule of six’ applies for socialising outdoors, which means that groups of more than six people are strictly forbidden.

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While couples are not explicitly mentioned in the government-issued rules, the Prime Minister’s office has since confirmed that they are not exempt from the restrictions in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas. The new regulations also appear to rule out casual sex altogether, many residents have since pointed out.

Prime Minister Johnson’s official spokesperson told The Guardian, “The rules on household mixing in tier 2, 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.”

Asked why an exemption was not made for people in ‘established relationships’ he replied, “Because the purpose of the measures that were put in place is to break the chain in transmission between households and the scientific advice is there is greater transmission of the virus indoors.”

He clarified that while couples can meet outdoors, they must maintain social distance, wear face masks and avoid touching. He also urged people living in Tier 2 areas not to go to Tier 1 zones just so that they can socialise indoors, the Evening Standard reported.

So, the only way a couple can meet indoors in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas is if they live together already or their households have formed ‘support bubbles’ with one another. While residents of high-risk areas still have the option of meeting outside, people in Tier 3 zones are prohibited from mingling with anybody they do not live with indoors or outdoors.

What is a support bubble?

According to the UK government’s official website, a support bubble is a network between a single-person home and another household of any size. Those in the support bubble are allowed to spend time indoors together and do not have to follow the two-metre social distancing rule. Overnight stays are also permitted.

The concept was meant to help elderly people or single parents with young children to pair up their households with one other for help and support during the lockdown. Couples who do not live together also have the option of forming a support bubble, as long as one of them has a single-person household.

The government introduced support bubbles in September when it had first started easing Covid-19 restrictions across the country.

Is this the first ‘sex ban’ in the country since the pandemic started?

No, even after the government rolled out new lockdown guidelines that include a clause that bans two people from separate households meeting indoors, many residents began half-jokingly accusing the government of instituting a ‘sex ban’.

The government later eased the restrictions in September by allowing people the option of forming ‘support bubbles’. However, many people quickly pointed out that the revised restrictions still ruled out casual sex.

In September, the government updated its rules once again to say that social distancing was not necessary if it is “someone you’re in an established relationship with”, however they failed to specify what sort or relationships qualify. Many interpreted this rule to mean that while couples who do not live together can have sex, casual sex is still not permitted.

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