The latest lockdown restrictions, announced by Boris Johnson on Wednesday 14 October, have enforced a series of stricter measures to tackle the growing number of coronavirus cases in England.
The number of local lockdowns has steadily increased, and the introduction of a tier system means that, in many cities, people can no longer socialise indoors (or in private gardens, in tier 3 areas) with anyone outside of their household or support bubble.
Since 22 September, there has also been a 10pm curfew for cafes, pubs and restaurants. Working from home where possible is also encouraged, so for many it means spending more time indoors and amending social plans.
But it doesn’t mean your social life has to come to a complete halt, as there’s many ways to keep entertained and mentally stimulated at home, whether it’s a classic board game of monopoly or a virtual escape room.
We’ve even got your covered when it comes to a romantic date night, whether you’re living together or apart.
Up ahead are the many ways you can still have social interaction while keeping safe.
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If you’re living in a shared house or with your family, you don’t need to depend on a screen for fun in your free time, instead opt for a classic board game that will keep everyone entertained.
In our guide to the best ones for all the family, coming out on top was the Monopoly voice banking 8+ (Argos, £11.49) that offers a modern twist on the ultimate family board game. The only downside our tester found is that it can often be the cause of argument when it gets really competitive!
This newer version comes with an interactive Mr Monopoly banking unit, which is voice-activated and handles all of the game’s transactions. He keeps tabs on players’ money and properties so there’s no cash or cards to think about.
“After a few goes this quickly became one of the most popular games among the pile we tried. We’re total converts,” said our reviewer.
The Ideal bank attack game (Amazon, £19.98) also impressed us, and is a great collaborative game which requires your to work together as criminal masterminds to crack the vault and release the loot hidden inside before the alarm goes off.
There are six different levels of gameplay which get increasingly difficult, so it doesn’t get boring.
Our reviewers commented: “It’s tricky to find a game that both a six-year-old and a teenager enjoy, but this ticks that box.”
With it you’ll receive an electronic safe as well as the money and gold bars, plus accessories including a drill, explosives and a laptop.
A fun puzzle will also keep you mind stimulated on a rainy day and is an easy way to pass the time if you’re limiting your social interactions outside your home.
If you’re looking for a challenge, we tested out some of the hardest jigsaws you can find and loved this Beverly micro pure white hell jigsaw puzzle 1,000 Piece (Amazon, £26.49).
While it’s name might not be the most enticing, every micro piece is the same colour, so it’s not for the fainthearted.
The puzzle is 38 x 26 cm when completed, and is made up of “oddly shaped interlocking and tessellating pieces” which sound like a serious challenge. You can opt for a black or white puzzle, be sure to take breaks to avoid eye strain.
The 1,000 will take you a good few hours to complete and Cloudberries promises to plant one tree for every puzzle it sells too.
“The beauty (and frustration) of this specific puzzle is the sheer number of seemingly identical pale blue pieces of (subtly varying shades) there are to sort through and place.” said our reviewer.
As almost everyone owns a smartphone and has access to thousands of apps to download, so there’s certainly no shortage of games to play with friends, without meeting up.
In our guide to the best apps to play with friends, we love the classic Words With Friends, which was already well established long before coronavirus forced people indoors, having ridden one of the first ever waves of viral game apps in 2009 alongside the likes of Angry Birds and Doodle Jump.
It’s essentially Scrabble built for phones and it is also possible to join a random game with other app users, so despite the name you’re not actually limited to playing just with friends.
Virtual escape rooms
While physical escape rooms across the country remain closed, you can still get an adrenaline rush and your fix of problem solving at home through virtual alternatives.
If you don’t want to be pressed for time, instead prefer to thoughtfully work through it with a team of friends at your own pace, try The Panic Room.
CSI: Grounded (£20) piqued our interest from its selection. Avery Stone died 30,000ft up in the air on a private company jet, everyone on board is a suspect and you and your team have to solve the puzzles to find who the killer is.
Or try Deadlocked Escape Rooms that come from Reading-based escape room Deadlocked, who have pivoted to online experience since the lockdown started.
Play The Insiders (£9.99), which has three “episodes” that take you into the Wexell Corporation, and your aim is to find the mole at the company who has been working against them using sensitive information.
You can play alone or in a team and it recommends allowing a break of three days in between each episode. Perfect for scheduling your next few online meet ups with friends.
Virtual date ideas
The 10pm curfew that has been announced for the hospitality industry may have put a dent in your upcoming date nights, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still do something fun with your significant other.
If you live together and want to create the restaurant experience, we’re fans of Pasta Evangelists, the subscription service that delivers a weekly drop of two fresh pasta meal kits (or more if you want), which you can pick from 10 recipes.
Each dish takes very little preparation or cooking time, meaning more time can be spent eating and less time clearing up afterwards – so it will feel like you've gone out to your local Italian together. Dishes start from £7.25 and you can do a one-off order too.
If you’re living in separate homes, whip up a feast over a Zoom call with a recipe from The art of the larder cookbook by Claire Thompson (Amazon, £17.99) won the best store cupboard essential cookbook in our review.
The beauty of the book is being able to "make something from anything" – so you're sure to find a use for that can of chickpeas you've been meaning to cook with. And you can both learn some new recipes too, like the Greek roasted tomato and oregano timbale with yoghurt topping, which our reviewer loved.
Once dinner is out the way, head straight to the sofa with a film or your favourite TV series. While you may previously have reserved Netflix for watching alone or with your flatmates on an uneventful Sunday afternoon, Netflix Party has come along just in time to help, as you can watch the same thing together, even if you and your partner are living separately – unless one of you skips ahead, that is.
Available through Chrome browsers, it’s an extension that allows you both to simultaneously watch the same TV show or movie, by synchronising playback and adding a group chat for you to discuss it while you watch.
If you want to make it a more civilised affair, try Marquee TV, a streaming service for dance, opera, music, documentaries and theatre from places like The Royal Ballet Company, The Royal Shakespeare Company and Opera Zurich.
It’s £8.99 a month or £89.99 a year, which will certainly save you money on tickets and get you a front-row seat to shows you might have missed out on. Work your way through The Nutcracker, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Giselle with glasses of wine in hands, dressed up to the nines with your date.
For meeting friends and family outside your home, read our guide on everything you need to socialise safely