England Isn’t Listening to Johnson’s Lockdown Orders Any MoreJanuary 22, 2021
People across England are about to be hit with a deluge of new government adverts on television, radio and social media containing one blunt demand: Stay at home.
It’s a familiar message — and that may be why the public seems to be shrugging it off.
The data shows Britons are far more active during the current third national lockdown than when the first emergency “stay at home” order was given last spring. There’s more traffic on the roads, more people on trains and more shoppers making trips out.
Government officials worry too many areflouting the rules as Prime Minister Boris Johnson urges the public to try harder to avoid spreading coronavirus. With the National Health Service buckling under the weight of Covid-19 patients, the U.K. already has the highest death toll in Europe at more than 87,000.
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While there are early signs that infection rates are starting to fall in places like London, and one person in 20 has now been vaccinated, officials warn life still might not be back to normal by spring.
Images of a state health-care system collapsing would risk inflicting further huge damage to Johnson’s standing, with public confidence in the government’s handling of the crisis already severely dented since it began.
“We are now seeing cancer treatments sadly postponed, ambulances queuing, and intensive care units spilling over into adjacent wards,” Johnson said on Friday. “This is not the time for the slightest relaxation of our national resolve and our individual efforts.”
Last week, schools and businesses were shut and people were told to stay home for work if they possibly could, and to avoid all journeys unless they were essential.
Despite the crisis, traffic on U.K. roads was still running at 63% of pre-pandemic levels on Jan. 11, government figures showed. That’s almost double the rate at the beginning of the first lockdown in early April, when traffic fell to 35% of normal levels.
Public transport use is also up, with four times the number of rail passengers this week than at the start of the spring lockdown. Despite the closure of non-essential stores, more people are out shopping this time, too, according to research firm Springboard.
Schools are open only for children of key workers but are reporting much higher attendance levels than in the spring. Latest government figures show that 14% of pupils in state-funded schools were in on Jan. 11, compared to an overall level of just 2% in April.
Given the stark threat facing the country, why are people going out more than they did when the pandemic first hit? Is there more rule-breaking, is the public just bored, or are the rules themselves not tough enough?
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The picture is not unique to the U.K. Elsewhere in Europe, people have grown tired of wave after wave of restrictions. What makes England different is that even from the start, the messaging was mixed from a government that was reluctant to curb people’s liberties.
In Spain and Italy, which imposed harsh lockdowns from the beginning, entire families became accustomed to living with life-altering restrictions. In Madrid and Milan, everyone wears a mask outside, and children must wear them at school. In London, face coverings outdoors are still optional.
Back at the beginning of the pandemic, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that citizens would “understandably get fatigued” with the restrictions.
Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.9:15 PM · Jan 4, 2021
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