In Depth

Divorce, baby boom, domestic violence: predictions for families in virus lockdowns

UK households asked to go into 14-day lockdown if any members have symptoms

Baby's feet

The UK government is trying to stem the coronavirus outbreak by urging households with suspected cases to self-isolate for 14 days - but experts says the nationwide lockdowns may have additional consequences for couples and families.

Side effects of being forced to spend such an unusually large amount of time together are expected to range from a baby boom to a surge in domestic abuse.

Here are a look at some of the predictions for self-isolating households during the coronavirus pandemic:

Divorce

A leading divorce lawyer has warned that the coronavirus outbreak is “very likely” to lead to an increase in marriage break-ups.

Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia made the comments in the House of Lords after Boris Johnson urged affected households to go into voluntary lockdown in order to avoid potentially infecting other people, reports The Independent.

“The prediction amongst divorce lawyers is that following self-imposed confinement, it is very likely that the divorce rate will rise,” said Lady Shackleton, who has represented clients include Paul McCartney, Prince Charles and Madonna. 

“Our peak times are after long exposure during the summer holidays and over Christmas. One only has to imagine what it’s going to be like when families are sealed in a property for a long period of time.”

Sky News reports that the Chinese city of Xi’an, where strict isolation measures had been introducted, has seen a record number of divorce requests in recent weeks.

“As offices have been closed for a month, they are likely to have been hit with delayed requests”, but officials believe that “another reason is that couples have been quarantined in close quarters”, says the broadcaster.

Domestic abuse

“How do you self-isolate when being alone with your partner isn’t simply a question of noticing how he picks his toenails, or how she gives a running commentary on the plot of every TV show?” asks Prospect Magazine.

“When instead, being stuck at home all day for two weeks means you are more at risk of controlling behaviour... of bullying and verbal abuse? Of being hit?”

Domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid is warning that self-isolation is “likely to shut down routes to support and safety for women, who may face even greater barriers to finding time away from the perpetrator to seek help”.

Many support organisations are offering online support to domestic abuse victims forced into isolation with their partners.

Hera Hussain, founder of women’s rights group Chayn, said: “We are anticipating domestic abuse will increase during coronavirus and we are preparing services for this. We are producing more content online. If you are living in the vicinity of an abuser, you need coping mechanisms.

“We are run by volunteers and are now working in the evenings too. A lot of survivors go to local trauma groups and group therapy but can’t get that anymore, so we are running a trauma group on Telegram – a highly secure instant messaging app.”

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Baby boom

The Daily Express suggests that the world may be “in for a baby boom in about nine months”, as couples in lockdown entertain themselves.

Dr Kevin Kathrotia, of North Carolina-based healthcare provider Millennium Neonatology, told Fox Business this week that a baby boom is “going to happen”, adding: “It’s probably going to be the biggest baby boom we’ve seen.”

“Everyone’s at home. Those already with kids are less likely to have a kid, but those married without kids - there’s going to be kids in nine months, I can assure you,” he predicted.

Surges in pregnancies following other lockdown situations suggest that Kathrotia may be proved correct. As the Express notes, an ice storm in Greater Toronto in 2014 is thought to be the reason for a subsequent uptick in babies born in the area, after “people were forced to work from home due to downed power lines”.

In some parts of the world, a coronavirus-linked baby boom is being actively encouraged. This week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on young people to “cancel the demographic crisis in Ukraine” by getting pregnant during self-isolation.

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