Bring on the dinner parties and backyard barbies! From today, people in one state can have visitors come over once again – but there’s a catch.
Bring on the dinner parties and backyard barbies! From today, people in one state can have visitors come over once again – but there’s a catch.

Big catch over relaxed restriction rule

Get out your vacuum and fold the washing piling up on the couch because you're allowed to have a couple of people over at your house once again.

After several weeks of strict lockdown measures to prevent the rapid spread of coronavirus, some states and territories are slowly starting to relax bans on the good stuff like seeing friends and getting out and about.

New South Wales is offering the most generous concessions to stir-crazy homebodies, who from May 1 will be able to have two people over to visit.

Bring on the dinner parties and backyard barbecues!

But don't get too carried away. There's a fairly big catch that will make your slightly more active social life a little tricky in practical terms.

A relaxation of socialising rules in New South Wales means dinner parties (small ones!) are back on the menu.
A relaxation of socialising rules in New South Wales means dinner parties (small ones!) are back on the menu.

"As you know, we've currently not allowed people to go and visit each other in their homes," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Tuesday.

"From May 1, on Friday, two adults will be able to go and visit anybody else in their home on the basis of care, on the basis of reducing social isolation and everybody's mental health.

"We know that for many people, they've been cooped up in their homes for a number of weeks, and with the exception of exercising, medical needs or buying what they need to or going to work, many people have been isolated in their homes."

Ms Berejiklian was quick to say this didn't mean you could invite all your friends over for a party.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to a level of social responsibility," she said.

"This isn't a licence to go wild and have massive parties, but it is a licence to be socially responsible and accept that the government is easing these restrictions to supply better mental health and less social isolation for everybody."

And NSW Health has been eager to remind people that they must continue to observe social distancing measures while visiting or having guests.

But what does that mean in this new phase of the pandemic?

Gladys Berejiklian has stressed that the relaxed rules have conditions attached.
Gladys Berejiklian has stressed that the relaxed rules have conditions attached.

"There are many actions individuals can take to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection when visiting loved ones," a NSW Health spokesperson told news.com.au

"The most important action you can take is social distancing and practising good hand hygiene.

"Social distancing means we reduce the number of close physical and social contacts we have. Combined with good personal hygiene, social distancing can slow the spread of COVID-19."

But in a practical sense, how do you maintain a 1.5m distance from people coming to your house?

"This may include conducting the visit outdoors if possible, having visual cues (such as) rearranging the furniture in a room to help us keep our distance, and making sure that we only visit when we are completely well and the people we are visiting are completely well," the NSW Health spokesperson said.

"This helps protect the most vulnerable members of the community and reduces the impact on essential, lifesaving health services."

And on hand hygiene, it's important to keep up regular and thorough handwashing, with the spokesperson saying: "Regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to protect yourself and others, and stop the virus spreading."

People can take their kids with them when visiting friends, but practice social distancing and good hand hygiene.
People can take their kids with them when visiting friends, but practice social distancing and good hand hygiene.

We've flattened the curve and everyone is eager to celebrate the small step back towards normal, but it's still crucial to maintain a safe distance.

Associate Professor Philip Russo from Monash University's Department of Nursing Research said the 1.5m rule should be closely observed in all scenarios.

"The coronavirus is spread from person to person when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes, so people in close contact are at high risk," Associate Professor Russo said.

"Respiratory droplets can land in your mouth or nose. Alternatively, droplets could land on your face, and the next time you touch your face, and then rub your eye, you could infect yourself."

If you're not great at estimating distances, he added: "It's about two arms lengths, but don't stress about it. A little bit less is OK, a little bit more is good."

After so long apart, people might be tempted to wrap their arms around a mate when meeting again for the first time.

Obviously, that's still a big no-no.

Nathalie Collins, academic director at Edith Cowan University, said refusing to embrace or kiss on the cheek is crucial - but stressed the importance of doing it with good social etiquette in mind.

"While it's vital to prioritise your own health and safety, a guiding principle of etiquette is to put the other person at ease by showing you value their feelings and comfort over your own," Ms Collins said.

"Make it less about the 'I' and more about the 'you'. For example, you can head off a potential hug by getting on the front foot, saying 'I'm so glad to see you, I'm sorry we can't hug' rather than waiting for it to happen and then diving out of the way.

"Being proactive shows you value the other person's feelings and have considered them in advance."

As restrictions ease, authorities are ramping up coronavirus testing to ensure they’re on top of any outbreaks.
As restrictions ease, authorities are ramping up coronavirus testing to ensure they’re on top of any outbreaks.

Of course, handshakes are still things of the past for now and Ms Collins said there are some practical and entertaining alternatives.

"With handshakes and even elbow-bumps off the table, you could try non-contact options such as a thumbs-up, a 'namaste'-style prayer gesture, or even an ironic jazz hands if you think you can pull it off," she said.

"Whatever you do, do it with a smile. The gesture on your face is more important than the ones with your hands.

"If you're feeling awkward, make a conscious effort to remember to smile, especially if you are a bloke - one study found that men tend to smile less often than women."

As was announced earlier this week, people in NSW will be limited to two adult visitors - they can bring their kids if they have them - and no more.

"I've used the word 'adults' to say obviously if you have young children, it's OK to take them with you. But a maximum of two adults will be able to visit anybody else."

 

The elderly should continue to remain at home as much as possible, Ms Berejiklian said.

"If you're over 70, we still recommend that you keep leaving home to a minimum, but if you do feel that you need to go and visit someone in their home, please make sure that similarly, you ask questions about making sure that everybody is well, making sure that everybody practices good social distancing."

And of course, anyone feeling unwell should stay home and not expose others. It's especially important when it comes to the elderly or people with chronic health issues.

"If you have the mildest sniffle, do not go and visit anybody," Ms Berejiklian said.

"If you're feeling slightly unwell or fatigued, don't risk it. Please, please (act) responsibly. We trust everybody to do it responsibly. Don't take risks.

"We don't want to see the numbers suddenly spike up because people are being irresponsible. And I'm absolutely confident that people will be responsible, because there's too much at stake."

Originally published as Big catch over relaxed visit rule