Following the latest lockdown announcement and new coronavirus rules, hugging will be allowed in England from today with 'Can we hug today?' and 'Happy Hug Day 2021' trending on Google. But what does it mean for children spending time with - and hugging - their grandparents? And does this mean you can now hug your mum and dad too?
Some of the most googled questions throughout every stage of lockdown are 'What are the lockdown childcare bubble rules?' 'Can grandparents babysit in lockdown?' 'Can children hug grandparents' and now, 'when will hugs be allowed?' And it's no surprise, it's been a long (nearly) 14 months since hugs with our loved ones were taken off the agenda, and if you're desperate to hug your parents, or to see your children hug their grandparents, you'll want to know what's next.
When can we hug again?
Hugs are back on the agenda after May 17th, this is the same time as pubs and restaurants re-open indoors and you're allowed to stay overnight at someone's house. Of course, everyone has their own opinions on how safe that is.
So, what do the experts say? We spoke to NHS doctor and founder of Your Doctor Friend, Dr Emma Luke to find out.
Is hugging safe?
'We know the virus is spread by aerosols from our nose and mouth, so anything that brings two people's faces in close proximity increases the risk of transmission - including hugging,' Dr Emma Luke states.
So, what post-vaccination? Can you hug someone who's had their vaccine? With most of our parents and grandparents now receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, some are optimistic it may be safer.
Can we hug parents or grandparents once they have been fully vaccinated?
'It is important to remember a grandparent will not reach full protection from their vaccine until at least two weeks after their second dose and children will not have received a vaccine at all,' Emma explains. 'No vaccine is 100% effective at preventing disease, so hugging even a fully vaccinated grandparent still carries a risk of virus transmission, which could lead to active infection, hospitalisation and even death. The risk, however, is significantly lower than it was six months ago with lower levels of circulating virus and the protection provided by the vaccines.'
Of course, that's not where everyone's questions end - particularly when it comes to kids spending time with grandparents.
Many will be wondering, with the rollout of the vaccine and new socialising rules, whether grandparents can safely babysit grandchildren, or have them overnight if if they've had their vaccine - either one dose, or two.
Up until this point, interaction between grandparents and grandchildren indoors hasn't been recommended if possible where grandparents are over 60. But there are already exceptions where they (and other family members) can help with childcare and babysitting: a childcare bubble.
The current guidance is here now. But, on the basis that is appears childcare bubbles and support bubbles look to be still in place, we've explained the various rules below too.
What is a childcare bubble?
If your childcare is shut or your children are not returning to school as planned, you may need to rely on a childcare bubble or support bubble to help.
The government states that: 'A childcare bubble is where someone in one household provides informal (unpaid and unregistered) childcare to a child aged 13 or under in another household.'
These rules have been brought in place to help parents struggling to find adequate childcare where mixing between households isn't allowed indoors.
However, it may shock some parents who have been using or hoping to use this loophole with their family living nearby that the childcare bubble is restricted to be only between the same two households.
As the government website states: 'For any given childcare bubble, this must always be between the same 2 households.'
What are the current lockdown childcare bubble rules? Can grandparents babysit in lockdown?
You can still have a childcare bubble in lockdown So, for those asking if grandparents can babysit in lockdown, the answer is yes.
The government site says: 'Parents are able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under.'
Some households will also be able to benefit from being in a support bubble for childcare too.
You can form a support bubble with another household if your household includes a child who is under the age of one or was under that age on 2 December 2020. Or if your household includes a child with a disability who requires continuous care and is under the age of 5, or was under that age on 2 December 2020. Or if you are a single adult living with one or more children who are under the age of 18 or were under that age on 12 June 2020.
You should not form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble.
What is wraparound childcare?
'Wraparound childcare' is childcare that schools provide outside of normal school hours, such as breakfast clubs or after school childcare. 'Holiday childcare' is childcare that schools provide during school holidays.
Can grandparents hug grandchildren when they've had the vaccine?
The earliest this could happen is May 17.
The government website states: 'As soon as possible, and no later than Step 3, the Government will update its advice on social distancing between friends and family, including hugging. Until then, people should continue to keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble, and keep up habits such as regular hand washing and letting in fresh air.'
So social distancing is still expected to stay in place until more of the population is vaccinated, which would mean no hugs.
Can grandparents babysit and help with childcare once they've had the covid vaccine? Are grandparents safe to be in your childcare bubble after one vaccine injection?
There is a lot of debate and conversation around how effective one covid vaccine dose is and when you might be more protected from coronavirus.
Many who were worried about whether it was safe to have grandparents to babysit as a childcare bubble, will be wondering if once the grandparents have had one vaccine dose, if they're relatively safe to start babysitting again.
Dr Jane Leonard said that people still need to be careful - especially because of the risk of carrying the virus to others.
'The purpose of the vaccine is to introduce your immune system to an inactive form of the virus so your body makes antibodies, says Dr Leonard. 'So if you become infected with the virus in the future your body has the antibodies to fight it and help to prevent you becoming unwell.
'What the vaccine does not do, is stop transmission. This means you can still carry and pass on the virus to others even when you have had the vaccine.
'In terms of when it is safe to see grandchildren and mix with other members of your family it is best to still follow social distancing and wear a mask even when you have had the vaccine.
'It is still unknown how much protection each vaccine will give you to stop you becoming unwell, however you do need to have two doses. The second dose is advised three to 12 weeks after the first. The first shot helps the body recognize the virus and primes the immune system to defend against it, while the second shot strengthens that immune response. It takes up to two weeks to start to build up immunity after having the vaccine.'
How far can grandparents travel to provide childcare in a childcare bubble?
How far can grandparents travel to babysit though? Many people are wondering whether family and friends have to be local to be a childcare bubble, or if you are allowed to travel further than usual to provide childcare.
For both support and childcare bubbles, how far you can travel isn't completely laid out by the government. But they do recommend that it is best to make a childcare bubble with people who live locally.
For those wondering how far can you travel to babysit and be part of a childcare bubble, the government says: 'If you form a childcare bubble, it’s best if this is with a household who live locally. This will help prevent the virus spreading from an area where more people are infected.'
There are sadly no guidelines on how many miles someone can travel to babysit or form a childcare bubble, specifically.
Is it safe for grandparents to babysit and provide childcare? A doctor answers
While options are short for parents, and you are free to choose anyone you wish for your childcare bubble, many parents are wondering if it's safe for grandparents to help out at the moment.
We spoke to Dr John McGrath, a GP who works for Parent Scheme, who said it's important to remember we're currently in a context of a 600% increase in confirmed cases and significant pressure on acute services. So while everyone is facing hard decisions, he says it's key that families make their own informed choices.
'We are in a really difficult situation in England at the moment,' says Dr McGrath. 'The decision to close schools will not have been taken lightly and there is no perfect or right option unfortunately at the minute.
'Coronavirus can be spread from person to person, and the information from public health is that the biggest contribution to spread is between individuals within a household. The new variant has been shown to be significantly easier to pass between each other. Children, thankfully are relatively unlikely to become unwell with COVID-19 caused by any variant, but can transmit the virus. Older people, especially those with underlying medical conditions, are the most at risk at developing significant illness. This is serious for the individual, but also increases the pressure on hospitals to care for those with COVID and other significant health conditions.
'The rules on support bubbles and childcare are available through government portals. Life for working parents with children at home is incredibly difficult. It is fantastic that there is recognition of the importance of childcare and support, both for the children and for the whole family unit. I would encourage families considering childcare support from grandparents to consider individual risks, and to discuss this openly.
'In terms of increasing safety [should grandparents provide childcare], anything which reduces the likelihood of transmission (reduced length of contact, being outdoors, mask wearing, less contact with others) would be ideal, but hardly practical for most families. The most effective preventative measure remains frequent hand washing with soap and water.
'With the roll out of the biggest vaccination programme in the history of the NHS, it may be that some families choose to continue distancing for now. For other families, this may not be practical or desirable. The rules allow people to form support bubbles but also relies on people to use judgement. I would encourage people to use the NHS resources (as found here) when thinking about their options.'
What does the government say about childcare bubbles and support bubbles in lockdown?
The new lockdown advice is very restrictive and appears to caution using childcare bubbles more than previously.
Talking about whether you can meet others, the website says: 'You cannot leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with or are not in a support bubble with (if you are legally permitted to form one).
'You may exercise on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.
'You should not meet other people you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, unless for a permitted reason.'
What are the self isolation rules with your childcare bubble?
If anyone in your childcare bubble displays symptoms of, or tests positive for Coronavirus, then everyone in that household has to stay at home and isolate for 14 days. If one person in your childcare bubble has come into close contact with someone else outside of your bubble who has symptoms of or tested positive for Coronavirus, then that person will have to stay at home and self isolate for 14 days, but the rest of the bubble will not unless that person displays symptoms of Coronavirus and/or tests positive.
Can you socialise with your childcare bubble in the current lockdown?
Official Government advice states that you 'must not meet socially with your childcare bubble, and avoid seeing members of your childcare and support bubbles at the same time. Childcare bubbles must be used exclusively for the purposes of childcare.'
Can grandparents currently babysit and help with childcare during a lockdown?
Can grandparents help with childcare during lockdowns? Yes if the rules remain as before. As before, the government has allowed for families to form a childcare bubble so that even under new coronavirus rules.
The new government rules say: 'Parents are able to form a childcare bubble with another household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under.'
Childcare bubbles can be with anyone - it doesn't just have to be with a family member.
Boris Johnson has cautioned people over 60 under the new coronavirus rules, so grandparents above that age should perhaps be careful mixing with children who are attending school or childcare settings in large bubbles.
Mr Johnson said: 'If you are clinically vulnerable, or over the age of 60, you should be especially careful to follow the rules and minimise your contacts with others.'
Can both grandparents be in a childcare bubble?
If those grandparents live in the same house, then yes, it's a bubble between households.
Can grandparents look after more than one set of grandchildren?
No, unfortunately not. It doesn't look like this is allowed under government guidelines. If grandchildren live in different households, they must only be a childcare bubble for one household. The government website says: 'For any given childcare bubble, this must always be between the same 2 households.'
If parents share custody, can they have one childcare bubble at each household?
Yes, Grazia understands that each of the two households can have a different person or grandparent helping to be in their childcare bubble.
Support bubbles if you have a baby under one or are a single parent.
Under the new restrictions, there has been a change to who can form support bubbles. If a family has a baby under 1, or a child under five who needs continuous care, they are able to form a support bubble with another household, regardless of the number of people in each household.
You can also have access to a support bubble if you are a single adult living with one or more children who are under the age of 18 or were under that age on 12 June 2020
Why did the government bring in childcare bubbles?
Matt Hancock previously changed restrictions so that even in lockdown areas where there was no mixing of households, there could still be an informal childcare arrangement (i.e. family and friends helping with childcare).
Speaking in the commons, Health Secretary Mr Hancock previously said: 'I’ve heard the concerns about the impact of local action on childcare arrangements. For many, informal childcare arrangements are a lifeline, without which they couldn’t do their jobs.
'So, today I’m able to announce a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults where that is necessary for caring purposes.
'This covers both formal and informal arrangements. It does not allow for play-dates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship that is vital for somebody to get to work is allowed.
'I hope this change will provide clarity and comfort to many people who are living with these local restrictions.'
Bear in mind advice about the spread of the disease to older relatives still where you can. This would seem to mean grandchildren still shouldn't hug their grandparents and really, should avoid them if possible.
Are single parents being given any extra help with childcare? Can they have more people in their childcare bubbles?
Only one childcare bubble is still allowed, even if you are a single parents. So that means just one person allowed to come and help provide informal childcare - this means it might only be one grandparent who can have access to a child when babysitting or helping out.
However, there could be another pair of hands to help. If a single parent lives by themselves (so no-one else over 18 as of June 12, 2020), the could also form a support bubble with another household.
This suggests that you could therefore have access to more people to help you.
Can children give grandparents coronavirus if they don't appear ill?
We spoke to Dr Luke Kane at the beginning of lockdown in March, and though restrictions have eased, his advice around whether children can pass on the disease, does still stand.
‘At the moment, kids seem to be quite resilient against the virus, but they can transfer it. So just because the child doesn’t get really sick, it doesn’t mean they can’t transmit the virus to someone that could get really sick,’ said Dr Kane. ‘The disease has been reported as, “It only affects people over 70,” but if you look at people who’ve been dying, it’s also 40- and 50-year-olds with medical conditions. So, it’s not this illness that only affects old people, it’s a very dangerous disease for everyone.’
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