News & Media

Health Minister must act on Social Bubbles - Moynihan writes to Donnelly

18 October 2020

Statement by Senator Rebecca Moynihan
Spokesperson on Housing, Local Government and Heritage
  • Moynihan writes to the Health Minister asking for action on blunt household visit restrictions.
  • Government must publish guidelines on social bubbles this week.
  • LSE research shows importance in reducing loneliness and improving mental health but also combatting spread of Covid-19.

With new restrictions likely to be agreed by Cabinet tomorrow, Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan has written to the Health Minister asking him to quickly act with clear guidelines from the government next week on how people who live alone can form social bubbles to reduce loneliness and tackle social isolation.

Senator Moynihan said:

“NPHET did say last week that they would look at the concept of social bubbles, but I am urging the Minister for Health now to take swift action as new restrictions are likely to be agreed tomorrow by the Cabinet. The household visit ban is already in place and we need urgency with clear guidance and advice on social bubbles. That is why I have written to him today on the matter.

“There are over 400,000 people in Ireland who live alone, and a further 200,000 single parent households. A household visit ban while necessary to control the virus is unnecessarily blunt and cruel for those living alone.

"There is now an urgency for clear communication from the government that social bubbles would be allowable under new restrictions. It is also important that government publish guidelines to show people what will be allowable, rather than asking people to rely on common sense or limiting bubbles to exclusively ‘compassionate or caring’ circumstances. 

“That’s why I think it is absolutely essential that guidelines on how social bubbles could function be brought forward quickly next week so people can put arrangements in place.

“Research from the London School of Economics has shown that not only did social bubbles reduce loneliness and improve mental health, but bubbles were also helpful in combatting the spread of coronavirus through emphasising the need for exclusivity and a defined group of social contacts. 

“We all understand the need to bring down community transmission of the virus, but other countries have understood the impact that isolation has and have allowed people to create social bubbles. The rules need to show compassion and be reflective of the type of households that people live in. Single person and single parent households shouldn’t be entirely cut off from any social contact or support during this crisis.

“The Government should do what countries like the UK and New Zealand have done in publishing guidance for social bubbles.

“A support bubble is a close support network between a household with only one adult in the home and one other household of any size.

“This would allow a household to form a bubble with an elderly parent or relative living alone. While I understand the need for all of us to limit our social contacts, we need to consider the consequences of completely isolating people who happen to live alone.”

ENDS

Text of Letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly:

Dear Minister Donnelly,

I am writing to you in advance of the likely introduction of new restrictions next week and the government announcement during the week of a household visit ban except in ‘compassionate and caring’ circumstances.

There are over 400,000 people in Ireland who live alone, and a further 200,000 single parent households. I understand that a household visit ban is considered important in controlling the virus, however it is also an unnecessarily blunt tool for those who live alone and I urge you to allow people to form social bubbles.

The concept of social bubbles has been used in countries such New Zealand since the beginning of this pandemic, and research from the London School of Economics has shown that not only did social bubbles reduce loneliness and improve mental health, but bubbles were also helpful in combatting the spread of coronavirus through emphasising the need for exclusivity and a defined group of social contacts.

I welcome the commitment from NPHET during the week that they are to look at social bubbles, however there is now an urgency for clear communication from the government that this would be allowable under new restrictions. It is also important that government publish guidelines to show people what will be allowable, rather than asking people to rely on common sense or liming bubbles to exclusively ‘compassionate or caring’ circumstances.

We all understand the need to bring down community transmission of the virus, but other countries have understood the wider health impact that isolation has on people. In developing a Covid response our rules need to show compassion and be reflective of the type of households that people live in.  Single person and single parent households shouldn’t be entirely cut off from any social contact or support during this crisis, because the government haven’t adequately considered the impact on them.

I hope that you will approach this issue with an open mind and look forward to a positive response from government.

Yours sincerely,
Senator Rebecca Moynihan.