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expert reaction to new rules on household gatherings in Greater Manchester, and parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire

Rules on household gatherings have been tightened in Greater Manchester, and parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire.


Prof Kate Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Future Health, University of York, and Bradford Institute for Health Research Covid-19 Scientific Advisory Group, said:

“We understand that there is a need to respond to rising cases as part of measures to control COVID-19.  The circumstances which contribute to the spread of the virus are, however, numerous and complex.  Focussing on specific individual behaviours (i.e., meeting indoors with other households) does not address other underlying factors which have also been shown to be important, including working in certain occupations or living in overcrowded/multi-occupancy housing.  These factors mean that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and associated restrictions fall disproportionately on some of the least advantaged in society.  A holistic approach to address underlying vulnerabilities and mitigate the impacts of lockdown measures is needed, and changes to guidance and regulations need to be communicated well in advance of their implementation.  It is disappointing that this was announced at such short notice, including for communities preparing to celebrate Eid.”


Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor in Respiratory Sciences, University of Leicester, said:

“These new restrictions make sense from a virus control angle – so far we’ve imposed rules to limit contact between strangers in indoor and outdoor public areas and on public transport, but the virus is still managing to transmit between friends and families from different households.

“It is natural to get physically closer with people you know, such as in garden parties and indoors with families and friends that we have not seen for several months – but this will give the virus more opportunity to spread, particularly from both pre-symptomatic and asymptomatically infected individuals, the existence of whom are well-documented now: (which says “Based on what we currently know, transmission of COVID-19 is primarily occurring from people when they have symptoms, and can also occur just before they develop symptoms, when they are in close proximity to others for prolonged periods of time. While someone who never develops symptoms can also pass the virus to others, it is still not clear to what extent this occurs and more research is needed in this area”).

“The spread amongst the younger generation is also likely linked to this, as younger people have larger, wider social circles so a higher contact rate is likely to ensue following the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

“Despite the level of asymptomatic infection, at this stage, most of the population is likely still susceptible to COVID-19, so such local population surges are likely to continue for some time.”


Prof Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham, said:

“Transmission within households has been recognised as one of the main routes of transmission from the earliest days of the pandemic.  This is almost certainly due to the inability to keep distances within a house and the length of exposure time.

“Households mixing will lead to much more significant exposures (people closer together) and more time spent in contact than other areas were social distancing is easier (such as pubs and restaurants) and where masks are required (shops and public transport).  Both degree of exposure and time spent are important.

“These targeted measures appear to be a result of local investigations of where transmission is thought to be most commonly occurring.  This is the most sensible way to control any outbreak, obtain as much information about spread and apply appropriate control measures.

“Early action will mean restrictions can be lifted sooner than if interventions were delayed.

“Multi-generational families have been mentioned.  It is the number of people in the household which is the key factor.  Multi-generational families is about an increased risk in older people who are more at risk of serious infection acquiring COVID-19 from people they live with.”


Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said:

“Meeting indoors, particularly within the house of a friend or relative, increases the risks of transmission.  There will be prolonged close contact, potentially over several hours.  Rooms in households will be smaller and maybe less well ventilated than in other larger indoors environments such as restaurants.  There may be increased touching of shared objects, such as cutlery, and those meeting may well hug and kiss.  All of these activities individually pose a small risk, but if enough low-risk activities take place, then the overall risk of transmission of COVID-19 increases.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


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