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Coronavirus: Social bubbles key to helping unlock economy and ensuring mental health well-being, says Naomi Long

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Justice Minister Naomi Long  (Liam McBurney/PA)

Justice Minister Naomi Long (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Justice Minister Naomi Long (Liam McBurney/PA)

Families could soon be allowed to meet up with other households in Northern Ireland under new proposed "social bubbles".

Justice Minister Naomi Long said that the Executive was due to meet on Thursday to discuss the possibility of allowing families to merge.

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster, Ms Long said that extending social contact was critical to ensuring the well-being of people's mental health - and to unlocking the economy by allowing people to return to work.

"At the moment, we live in a bubble with our own household and that's the extent of the indoor contact that we have. The idea would be to join a small number of households together initially and form a slightly larger bubble. By rolling that out over time on a very measured basis, we would be able to start to restore some of the social contact that we have."

Ms Long added that there would be some rules in place to ensure the virus doesn't spread.

"If it's going to work, there has to be some kind of order to it. You need to have a discrete number of families and households involved so you know the extent of people you've been in contact with. It makes tracing, if anyone does get sick or gets symptomatic, very quick and simple because you'll know who you've been in contact with."

She added that it's also "crucial" that people don't move between bubbles.

"It's important that you treat your bubble the way you treated your household, so that people don't enter or leave it during the period and then over time you're able to expand on the numbers."

"No system is going to be perfect. Every system is going to have anomalies that will cause risks but I think it's really important that as we talk about restoring the economy, we talk about getting people back to work and all those other things, that we look at the impact that it has had on individual people's lives and their ability to form family relations and be able to be with friends and have that emotional support."

Ms Long added that extending social bubbles is crucial for childcare.

"We need to allow people to have this childcare bubble so that they're able to make contact with family or friends who can come to their house for childcare, or they can take their children to their home for childcare. If we're going to allow people to start going back to work, we're going to have to look at those informal childcare arrangements as well as the formal ones.

"There's a real opportunity here to allow people to start rebuilding their personal life, because without that emotional support, it's going to be very difficult to encourage people to go back in the shops and work. We need to be sensitive that people are crying out for that opportunity, but we do have to do it as safely as we can."

Belfast Telegraph