Stay in your bubble

What is a bubble and how does it work? The lockdown-buddies rules, explained

As of midnight last night, the country is in lockdown. The rules are: stay in your bubble for the next four weeks. But what is my bubble and how far can I stretch it?

At 6.30pm on Wednesday, New Zealanders shared a collective shriek when all our phones went nuts with an emergency alarm. It was hard to miss, and it said, in bold letters: “Where you stay tonight is where YOU MUST stay from now on”.

For anyone who didn’t already know that, it was a pretty bold reminder that waking up on Thursday we would be in what is being referred to as our “bubble”.

This “bubble” is made up of all the people who share your household. That could be your flatmates, parents, siblings, children, and/or partner. Whoever was under the same roof as you when the clock struck 11.59pm. 

But there’s still some confusion around how the bubbles work and whether they can be connected or changed throughout the four-week lockdown. 

To provide some clarity, here are some answers to some bubble questions that just keep bubbling up.

Why can’t we join our neighbour’s bubble? None of us are seeing anyone else, so surely that’s safe? It’s not really “breaking” our bubble, it’s just inviting others in!

As per the emergency message, the people who were in the same household as you last night are the ones now in your bubble. 

Siouxsie Wiles explains how the bubbles work in this story. She says, “if it turns out someone in our bubble is incubating Covid-19, then the virus will be limited to our bubble. It won’t be able to spread any further. It also means if no one in our bubble has the virus then as long as we stay in our bubble, we will stay safe and save lives”.

So no, don’t go combining your bubble with your neighbour’s family, or your friend down the street. Like Jacinda Ardern said in her Facebook live video, act as though you already have Covid-19. You wouldn’t want to combine bubbles then, would you?

Is it okay for me and my flatmate to take turns going to the supermarket, or should there only be one designated shopper?

It is okay for both of you to go to the supermarket, as long as you’re keeping trips to a minimum. Make sure that everyone in your household continues to wash their hands, especially after touching any surface in public where the virus can sit. 

If anyone in your household gets sick or is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, the government’s advice is to get your groceries delivered to your door, that way you’re limiting contact with things that might pass the virus on to someone else.

I’ve been in self-isolation after travelling. Can I now join my family in lockdown?

If you’ve been in self-isolation in the same household as other people, Peter Abernethy from the Ministry of Health says you’ll need to finish your self-isolation before joining them.

“Until their quarantine period is over, they should continue to do that, away from other people.” 

If you’ve been self-isolating in a household alone, you’re allowed to join your family after the 14-day isolation period, and they will become your bubble.

My family have been in self-isolation at an Airbnb after travelling. We were only booked for two weeks and can’t afford to stay on during the rest of the lockdown. What are our options?

The official Covid-19 website has a couple of options if you’re in this situation. If you’re travelling from overseas you should contact your embassy or consulate for assistance. They should be able to help you find temporary accommodation for the remainder of the lockdown period. 

If you’re a New Zealand resident or citizen, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is working to help people into temporary accommodation for self-isolation. There is a cost for this isolation but if you’re in a pickle with money, contact the Ministry of Social Development to see if assistance is available for you.

The government is also offering financial support for people who need to self-isolate and are out of work or sick. If you think this might apply to you, apply online at Work and Income.

Don’t pop the bubble.

Can I set up some deck chairs and chat in person to my neighbour over the fence at a safe distance?

Again, like the prime minister said: act as though you already have the virus. If this changes how you would conduct yourself, then think about whether it’s necessary. There are plenty of options available to talk to people via video calling, messaging and good old fashioned phonecalls.

Wiles says you can have a chat with your neighbour, but not a long one. “Keep it brief – just a few minutes – and maintain that two metre distance.”

But if I find a loophole, surely I can exploit it? If an action is risky it would have a specific rule to prevent it, right?

The clearest answer to this was given by controller of the all-of-government response and head of the lockdown taskforce John Ombler when he said: “If you’re looking for exceptions to the rule, you’ve missed the point of it and means other New Zealanders could die.”

Can kids go between houses if their parents live separately? Doesn’t that count as breaking the bubble?

Remember that any time you leave your house, you’re putting both yourself and anyone around you at risk. Taking your kids to their other parent’s house is allowed, as long as both parents agree that’s the extent of their bubble. That means when the kids are at one parent’s house, the other one can’t go and see their mates because they’re feeling lonely. 

The Covid-19 website says children in the same communities can continue to go between their homes, but there need to be extra precautions in place. 

“Parents from different households keep a distance of more than two metres from each other. If the families are in different towns or communities, then the children should stay in one home.”

If children or parents are feeling unwell, keep them where they are to stop the potential spread of the virus.

I live alone, can I go and visit anyone to help me get through the next four weeks? 

Yes, but there are strict conditions. The other person must also be living alone and you both must agree to not visit any other household during the lockdown period. You can’t have a lockdown buddy in a different community than yours, so choose someone who lives close to you. 

Ardern said in her Facebook Live that the less travel people do, the safer for everyone. 

“We’re asking people to stay local. It makes it a lot easier and means that people won’t be taking trips and risking things like car breakdowns.”

If either of you feel sick, use your common sense and don’t continue visits. To do so would put your bubble buddy and anyone you may encounter on your way to that person at risk too.

Can I hug the people inside my bubble? 

“We can definitely hug people in our bubble!” says Wiles. It’s four weeks, you’re gonna need a hug or two.



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