Coronavirus: 'My housemate refuses to social distance'

By Manish Pandey
Newsbeat reporter

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"My housemate came back to the flat at midnight, during lockdown, with two women."

Having difficult housemates is something a lot of us have probably experienced at some point.

But with the government telling us to stay inside because of coronavirus, it's not the best time to have a housemate who breaks the rules.

"He doesn't seem to think having people over is a problem," Helen* tells Radio 1 Newsbeat about the man she lives with, who's also her landlord.

She says he's not been following any of the government rules regarding social distancing and staying inside during lockdown.

"He's been bringing multiple women over and there's no such thing as social distancing for him," she says.

media captionOne and two metre social distancing - what does it look like?

Because of the number of people visiting her home, Helen is worried about the risk to her health.

"We know the virus lives on surfaces for a long time. So if they've used something and not washed it properly, it exposes the entire apartment to the virus."

She now stays isolated in her room because she feels it's become "impossible" to live in the rest of her flat.

"I've deep-cleaned my entire room. I rarely go to the kitchen - only when it's absolutely essential," she says.

Helen spends half of her salary on rent and says it's "pretty sad" that she's stuck in just one room while her housemate doesn't even follow the two-metre distance rule.

'He doesn't even wash his hands'

Nathan, 23, knows how difficult it can be to self-isolate if you get coronavirus symptoms.

He was in Morocco four weeks ago and returned to the UK on an emergency flight, which meant he had to self-isolate for two weeks.

"It was an absolute nightmare. So the thought of getting sick, or having to isolate again worries me," he tells Newsbeat.

He says his flatmate has been leaving the house most nights to visit his girlfriend who works at a hospital.

"He's got a bigger chance of getting the virus and passing it on," Nathan says.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionNathan says his housemate has been bringing friends to the flat they share during lockdown

His housemate also goes out a lot and brings lots of people back to the flat.

Their flat is quite small, so it's tough for Nathan to keep a distance from the people who come over.

"He's got no regard for others or even himself, and doesn't even wash his hands after coming from outside. It's not good and a major threat."

Both Helen and Nathan have tried to persuade their housemates to change their behaviour.

But they say their flatmates feel nothing bad will happen to them because they are young and healthy.

"I explained to him there are plenty of young and seemingly healthy people who have struggled with this, some who have even lost their lives," Helen says. "He refuses to think about it."

Nathan says his flatmate is aware of the risks, but "doesn't care".

'Willing to put lives in danger'

Charlotte's flatmate travelled about five hours to visit her boyfriend, and stayed with him for a week and a half.

The 22-year-old says she asked her to stay where she was because coming back could pose a risk.

"She ignored that and came back with her boyfriend, who doesn't even live with us," Charlotte says. "I've seen her on Snapchat, partying with other people. She's not following any of the rules.

"She refuses to believe she's a risk to anybody and doesn't see an issue with her behaviour."

media caption'If you choose to stay at home, you will save lives,' say doctors and nurses

When confronted about her behaviour, Charlotte says her flatmate became "argumentative and refused to listen".

She's shown her housemate statistics on infection and deaths and "explained in every way possible".

"She just doesn't think she's in the wrong and there's no getting through to her - in any way shape or form."

It's a scary situation for Charlotte.

"The fact she's willing to put lives in danger is quite terrifying," she says.

'Stay at home and save lives'

Some forces have launched dedicated information pages encouraging people to tell officers about breaches of coronavirus restrictions.

So should you report your flatmate to the police?

The Home Office tells Newsbeat they expect people to stay at home and avoid non-essential travel - and that police will be using their "professional judgement" to enforce lockdown rules.

"We urge everyone to stay at home to help protect the NHS and save lives," says a government spokesperson.

"Individuals breaching these restrictions may be issued with fixed penalty notices by the police."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionPolice in the UK have been using their powers to stop people breaking lockdown rules in parks

What can you do?

People facing problems with their housemates should try to address the problem directly, according to consultant psychologist Dr Elena Touroni.

She says it's important to highlight "the consequences of their behaviour" and try to set limits on what's acceptable.

"The person has to emphasise that they are feeling unsafe," she says, adding that this should be done in a calm and serious conversation.

"And if the person gets angry, let them vent before approaching them again.

"It's important to hear all sides of the story, and actually validate their feelings. Maybe they feel genuinely frustrated by social distancing.

She says by listening, there's more chance to get something in return - such as a change in behaviour.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDr Elena Touroni says it's important to listen to your housemates frustrations about lockdown

Elena adds that it's important to make your housemate care about what is happening and put them in your shoes.

"You can turn the tables and ask them what they would feel if the roles were reversed - and they were living with someone who might make them feel unsafe."

She says the only way to motivate somebody to change is to emotionally connect them to the problem, not just give information and statistics.

'That could be you'

Nathan says trying to persuade his housemates has been hard, but it has to be done.

"I think the way to do it is show them the personal stories of people who didn't know it was going to happen to them," he says.

"Lots of families have lost their loved ones, you need to emphasise 'that could be you'."

He says it's vital to make people realise social distancing is a small price for potentially saving lives.

*Name has been changed

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