FROM today in the North-East it will be illegal to meet someone for a drink or a meal in a pub or restaurant if they are not in your household.

The existing restrictions, which already made it illegal to mix with other households in their homes or gardens, have been supplemented by these new restrictions, affecting some two million people.

Food and drink play a key part in sharing life. Whether sharing a pint after work, meeting up for Sunday lunch or putting the world to rights over a cup of tea and slice of cake, the sharing and breaking of bread together is one of the anchors of our interpersonal relationships.

It is without doubt that these newest restrictions will have an economic impact but there are also deeper, more wide-spread impacts such as consequent loneliness and increasing poverty of spirit.

Speaking to the journalist in 1975 Mother Teresa of Calcutta gave an interview to the journalist Dan Wooding where she said: “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people.

“You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted.

“These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is.”

It was a theme that Mother Teresa expanded upon 20 years later in her 1995 book A Simple Path: “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.

“We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.

“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty – it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

Understanding the impact of the new restrictions in some ways depends on how we understand ourselves.

An approach that embraces the French philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous dictum that “I think, therefore I am” would suggest there is little impact to be found in not being able to share life together.

However an approach which sees both our own and the common good intertwined in the flourishing of human relationships would be more accurately reflected in the African understanding of Ubuntu “I am because we are”.

In recent weeks the Government has already made changes to previously announced measures for the sake of the economy – such as the ability of grandparents to care for children.

Reconsidering these latest measures, whose effectiveness is up for debate, might not only help the economy but might also ensure that the spiritual poverty to be found in loneliness and separation would also be addressed.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham