Couples in England who do not live together but are in an “established relationship” will no longer have to socially distance from each other, the government has said.
Under the changed guidance, ministers have relaxed the rules that prevented partners who live in different households from kissing, holding hands, or any other form of touching amid the ongoing pandemic.
Relaxed rules for couples
While rules have relaxed for “established” couples, casual sex still remains banned in government guidance.
This means that anyone who is not in a relationship, or is in the “early stages of a relationship” should still adhere to guidance on social distancing.
Under current restrictions, gatherings of up to six people are legal in areas which are not under a local lockdown, but people should still remain two metres apart from those who do not live in their household.
However, this guidance does not apply in large parts of the UK where local lockdowns are currently in place, including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. In these areas, any visits to another home or garden are currently banned.
The recent relaxations took effect from Tuesday 22 September, with couples still in the “early stages” of dating told to take “particular care” to follow social distancing rules.
Guidance published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) states, “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."
The DHSC has not yet clarified exactly what constitutes an “established relationship.”
‘People need to be careful’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that people need to “be careful” when it comes to having sexual relationships outside of “established relationships” during the pandemic.
Mr Hancock explained that only “established” couples should be having sex, but failed to explain exactly what an established relationship means.
Speaking to Sky News, he said, “In these rules that we have to bring in, there have to be boundaries, to coin a phrase.
“If you’re saying that two households shouldn’t mix, which we are in some parts of the country – in the North East, the North West, in Scotland, in parts of Wales – then you have to then define what is the boundary of that.
“I think we should stick to the letter of it, which is that it is okay in an established relationship. It just means that people need to be careful, they need to be sensible.
“If you’re in a relationship that is well established… what it means is people realising that coming into close contact with people from other households, then that is how the virus spreads.”