'Support bubbles': People living alone allowed overnight stays with one other household in England from Saturday

People living alone will be allowed to meet with one other household from Saturday, the prime minister has announced in an attempt to make lockdown less lonely and more bearable.

Boris Johnson said single adult households will be able form a “support bubble” with one other household and act as if they all live together, meaning they will not have to observe social distancing rules.

It means the two-metre rule will be bypassed for those within a “bubble” and even overnight stays will be permitted.

Once a single adult household has formed a bubble, it must remain exclusive, meaning people will not be allowed to swap which household they meet with.

The rule also applies to single parents with children under 18.

If any member of a bubble develops coronavirus symptoms, they must all follow self-isolation rules.

The person with symptoms must stay indoors for seven days, while all others will need to quarantine for 14 days.

The prime minister said the change was being made to "support those who are particularly lonely as a result of lockdown measures".

"It is a targeted intervention to limit the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions," he added.

It means elderly who live alone will be able meet with one of their children, while single parents could form a bubble with their parents in order to share childcare.

Couples who live apart will finally be allowed to be within two metres of each other and spend the night together.

But Mr Johnson warned this new freedom is "emphatically" not designed for people who do not live alone to start meeting inside other people’s homes.

He said that "remains against the law".

  • Video report on 'support bubbles' from ITV News Political Correspondnt Romilly Weeks:

There’s no limit on how far someone can travel to meet another household, but the rule only applies in England meaning people will not be able to cross borders within the UK.

Those shielding are advised to continue doing so and should not meet other people, the prime minister said, however more will be announced for shielders "next week".

Mr Johnson admitted people will find "anomalies" in what the guidance says can and cannot be done but said that's "inevitable when we’re only able to give people a small amount of the freedoms that they usually enjoy".

At the press conference the prime minister was repeatedly asked about a comment by a government scientific adviser that imposing lockdown a week earlier could have halved the UK's death toll.

Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, speaking to the Science and Technology Committee, said: "The epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced.

"So, had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half."

Mr Johnson said questions about what could have been done differently were "premature" and declined to say he regretted not ordering lockdown sooner.

Chris Whitty, England's chief medical adviser, said “part of the problem that we had at that stage is that we had very limited information about this virus".

He added: “The nature of new epidemics is very often they come in waves circling around the world and if we get hit by another wave, at that point we need to understand better what is the optimal mix of things we could do.”

Mr Johnson was speaking just hours after being accused by Labour leader Keir Starmer of "flailing around, trying to blame others" over the U-turn on the reopening of schools.

He told the press conference he has a "very big plan" to "bring all children back to school in September".

He said there would be a “huge amount of catch-up work” so pupils “get help during the summer and the autumn and beyond”.

The government's ambition was that primary schools could also fully reopen on June 15, however it was announced on Tuesday that plan had been abandoned.

The U-turn came amid speculation that regional R numbers (the reproduction rate of Covid-19) had tipped above one, however that rumour was dispelled by Sir Patrick Valance.

England's top scientific adviser insisted the R number was "below one, but perhaps only just below one" in some areas.

He said ministers must be "prepared" to reverse any upward turn in the R number, which "importantly means looking for outbreaks locally and dealing with those fast".

Referring to data from the Office for National Statistics, he said about 6-7% of the population was thought to have had contracted coronavirus, while 53,000 were thought to be infected between May 17 and 30.

The prime minister admitted that the UK’s coronavirus infection rate was not as low as he would have hoped.

"There are still 53,000 people who have it, the R is only just below one, we have 30,000 or more new cases per week.

“It is not down as low as I would like and I have to be very mindful of the risk of new outbreaks.”

The update follows the announcement that zoos, safari parks and drive-in cinemas will join some non-essential retail shops in reopening on June 15.

Despite the government conceding it was too early to open schools, Chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier insisted it would be safe to go shopping at non-essential retail stores when they reopen on Monday.

Pubs, restaurants and bars, which will not be allowed to reopen before July 4, will welcome speculation that the two metre rule could soon be reduced to one metre.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson said the rule was under constant review and as the incidence of coronavirus declined “the statistical likelihood of being infected – no matter how close or far you are from somebody who may or may not have coronavirus – goes down”.

Mr Johnson is under pressure to reduce the distance in order to help businesses reopen amid concerns about the economic impact of the restriction.

Watch Boris Johnson's press conference in full: