Covid: 'Why I'm breaking lockdown rules'

By Megan Lawton
Newsbeat reporter

Published
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionFor some people, lockdown hasn't stopped scenes like this (stock photo)

For most of us, last Friday night was spent on the sofa glued to a screen. Because aside from a Zoom quiz, there's not much else to do during lockdown. Right?

Not if you're Max. Last Friday he hosted a dinner party for seven others, inviting five people from two other houses. That's despite current lockdown rules that ban almost all mixing of households inside.

Meeting up with friends is something he's done throughout the pandemic.

At some points, he went to parties with more than 20 other people.

"The size of the gatherings I was going to over the span of the last eight months have varied depending on the policies in place," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"You make decisions, and you take risks. Sometimes the risks get you fined, sometimes the risks get you arrested, sometimes the risk spreads a massive disease to the rest of the world."

Max isn't alone in breaking lockdown rules. Studies suggest that those who do are in the minority, but during this third lockdown, the government has felt the need to introduce tougher penalties for rule flouters and launched a campaign urging people to "act like you have the virus".

media captionCovid: Jonathan Van-Tam answers your questions on Zoom

In England, you're only allowed to meet up with one other person who's not in your household - and only if it's for outside exercise. If you're living alone or need help with childcare, you can form a support bubble with one other household.

But 28-year-old Max says he isn't a fan of the government's rules on household mixing. He accepts he is breaking the rules but believes socialising with his friends is okay because they've had Covid and therefore can't get the virus again. This is something scientists dispute.

Police have recently stepped up efforts to fine people for not complying with the rules. In order to leave home in England, by law, you need to have a "reasonable excuse". If you don't have one, police can fine you £200 for a first offence - doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

We put Max's comments to England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who described the behaviour as "utterly foolish" saying it could "lead to networks of new transmissions".

image copyrightRichard Baker / Getty Images
image captionGovernment advice is to behave as though you have the virus when interacting with others

Liv has also been breaking some of the lockdown rules. Despite guidelines banning household mixing indoors, the 28-year-old visits her parents and her two nieces every week. She says she does so to help her mental health.

"I've always suffered with depression and anxiety and obviously lockdown hasn't helped," she says.

Liv works from home and finds being "stuck in the house" really hard. "I'm in the same four walls and live with my boyfriend who works in a hospital," she says.

"When he comes home, he's very depressed. He's had a lot of suicidal thoughts. So, for me, my family is my safe place. I don't have to think about him."

On a bad day, Liv says she also struggles with suicidal thoughts.

"When you're around someone else who's also very down and you're trying to be positive, it's hard," she says.

Working in the pharmaceutical industry, Liv says she is very aware of Covid and the risks of passing it on to her parents, so does everything she can to minimise the spread.

"I very rarely go out, if at all," she says. "Normally, it's just a walk around the block so I'm not meeting anyone else."

And as for police fines deterring future visits to her parents, Liv says she "would rather take the fine than have my mental health dip to as low as it has been".

image copyrightAsurobson / Getty Images
image captionA sign on a road asks people to stay at home

Laverne Antrobus is a Consultant Psychologist at Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, helping young people make sense of dilemmas. She believes compliance during this lockdown is "different to March when the pandemic was emerging".

"Our minds worked differently then. Our mindset was that we all had a job to do. To not go out, to stay as safe as we could, to wash our hands. That was very clear."

But Laverne says the tier system introduced in England in October "disrupted our mindsets" because it gave some of us a sense of freedom, meaning when another national lockdown was brought in, it seemed harder to revert.

Liv found sticking to rules easier in the first lockdown but struggled in the second and third.

"I think because this lockdown is over the winter months, you can't go out as much, and you can barely see daylight, so that's made it a lot harder," she says.

'Guilt and anxiety'

Phoebe can relate. She was furloughed during the first lockdown but found it easy to follow all the restrictions.

"I was really good," she says. "I'd been busy, I'd been productive. I'd started all of these little hobbies and had a really charmed kind of situation. I was really, really fortunate."

But as the months of the pandemic went on, the days got darker and she was furloughed once again, she started to struggle.

"I felt these shifts happening in my mental health and I wasn't really sure where it was coming from. I started going to therapy and that made me more vulnerable."

The 24-year-old, who lives in a house share in London, started meeting her boyfriend for walks. She says she thought: "We're not distancing - we're holding hands. So what's the difference with us being inside or outside?"

image copyrightKaveh Kazemi / Getty Images
image captionPhoebe says she initially met up with her boyfriend for walks

Phoebe says regular visits from her boyfriend helped "create a semblance of normal in a really weird world", but they also came with negative feelings too.

"It was the one luxury that we afforded each other. It was beneficial to my mental health, but it was also something that brought guilt and anxiety."

Phoebe doesn't feel great about making up her own rules, but says: "I think if I'd been the only person I knew doing that, then it would have felt a lot heavier. But every single person I know has been making those decisions."

The government and scientists are clear that staying at home "is the single most important action we can all take to protect the NHS and save lives."

And after having to admit that his behaviour has broken so many rules, Max says he's had a bit of a change of heart.

"It would be a great situation if everyone, including myself, locked down and we could beat this thing," he says. "We should keep that in mind and I will stop gathering with friends - it's important to set an example."

Some contributors' names have been changed.

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