England underwent its latest easing of the third coronavirus lockdown on 12 April, when a range of businesses were allowed to reopen, including non-essential shops, hair salons, and gyms. Likewise, outdoor dining and drinking at restaurants and pubs was allowed to resume. Two weeks after this easing of restrictions, the latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that a majority of the British public (54%) thinks the Government has struck the right balance with its current coronavirus restrictions. On the other hand, 29% consider the current level of restrictions to be too relaxed, whereas 17% consider it too restrictive. This latest result is relatively similar to what we found in early March and late February, before the latest reopening, when 26% said the level of restrictions were too relaxed.
Thinking about the pathway followed by the Government in order to get the country to its current state of reopening, our latest poll also finds that 31% think the Government has been too cautious in its approach to easing coronavirus restrictions, whereas 26% think it has been too impatient. Meanwhile, a plurality (43%) thinks the Government has struck the right balance between caution and urgency in its approach to easing restrictions.
Likewise, 60% of the British public consider that the Government is currently taking the right measures to address the coronavirus pandemic, with only 25% saying they do not think the right measures are currently being taken.
General satisfaction with the way in which lockdown is being eased and with the current restrictions in place mirrors the general optimism of the public in Britain. Overall, 57% think the worst of coronavirus pandemic is now behind the UK, compared to only 17% who still think the worst is yet to come.
Reflecting this high level of optimism among the population, our latest poll records that 55% now say they would feel safe shopping for clothes and such items, compared to 35% who would feel unsafe. These figures represent a significant reversal since January and February, when strong majorities felt unsafe going shopping.
Broadly in line with the proportion who say they now feel safe going shopping, 43% of British adults say they have visited a non-essential shop since they were allowed to reopen on 12 April. Among younger respondents, the proportion is even higher, with 58% to 59% of those aged 18 to 34 saying they have visited a non-essential shop in the past two weeks.
Likewise, a majority of the British public (57%) now say that they would feel safe going to a barber or hair salon, with 33% saying that they would still feel unsafe.
Our polling finds that a substantial 32% of British respondents have visited a hair salon or barber since they were allowed to reopen two weeks ago, reflecting significant levels of pent-up demand from the lockdown months when haircuts were not available. The proportion that has visited a barber or hair salon is particularly high in London, where 42% say they have visited a barber or salon in the past week.
When it comes to outdoor dining and drinking, the current figures indicate that 58% of the public currently feels safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a pub outside, an activity which has now been allowed for two weeks.
Nonetheless, despite 58% of respondents feeling safe eating or drinking outdoors at pubs and restaurants, our polling finds that only 23% say they have visited a pub and 20% that they have gone to a restaurant in the two weeks since their reopening. This lower figure could be a reflection of limited capacity (since venues are limited to hosting customers in their outdoor space only), difficulty of securing reservations, weather that is still relatively cold, and the proportion of the population who generally does not go out to eat or drink, irrespective of safety concerns.
Alongside non-essential shops, hairdressers and barbers, and outdoor dining and drinking, another sector of the economy that was allowed to reopen on 12 April was gyms. Since the start of the pandemic, our polling has consistently found that strong majorities of the public would not feel safe going to a gym—and our latest poll is not an exception, as 55% still say they would feel unsafe working out at a gym. Meanwhile, 29% do say that they now would feel safe going to the gym.
The 29% who say they would feel safe going to a gym now likely include the 15% who say they have worked out at a gym in the past two weeks, since they were allowed to reopen. This figure is particularly high in London, where 31% say they have worked out at a gym at least once in the past two weeks.
In addition to visiting the range of businesses described above, the British public has also been particularly keen to finally meet with family and friends that they had not seen so far this year. Our research finds that 43% of the public has met with friends or family that they had not seen earlier this year since the relaxation of restrictions earlier this month. Among respondents aged 18 to 24, this proportion rises to 61%.
Although socialising indoors remains banned for people from different households, our research finds that the British public feels increasingly safe visiting a friend’s house, with 47% saying they would feel safe and 43% saying they would feel unsafe. The data from recent weeks represents a reversal of the results we saw from September 2020 until February 2021, when clear majorities of the public stated that they would feel unsafe visiting a friend’s house.
Overall, the first two weeks of reopened Britain appear to have been successful, with large sections of the public venturing out to go shopping, get a haircut, enjoy a meal or drink outdoors, or work out at the gym. Likewise, it has been possible for many Britons—especially younger ones—to reconnect with friends and family after what might have been several months of isolation for many of them. With coronavirus rates in the United Kingdom at some of their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic and the rate of vaccinations fast increasing, the British public is optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is now behind us and satisfied with the Government’s current approach to easing restrictions.
To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.