In July 2020, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies began to track how safe or unsafe the British public feels engaging in a variety of activities, such as going to a restaurant, to the barber, or shopping for clothes. Since then, we have periodically asked the same questions to large samples of British respondents, allowing us to track changes in public sentiment. Rather often, what the public regards as safe or unsafe tends to mirror what current Government restrictions allow or disallow—although sometimes public opinion leaps ahead or lags behind the regulations.

On 15 July 2020, less than two weeks after the full reopening of hospitality in the UK following the first lockdown, the public primarily felt unsafe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a pub. In particular, in July 2020, only 28% felt safe at an indoors restaurant or pub, whereas as many as 40% felt safe at an outdoors restaurant or pub. Nine months later, as we approach the end of the current lockdown and hospitality prepares to reopen in stages, our latest poll finds that 52% would currently feel safe eating or drinking outdoors at a restaurant or pub, whereas 36% would feel safe doing so indoors. Likely as a result of the fast rollout of coronavirus vaccines in the UK and the greater degree of public awareness about coronavirus risk levels for different groups, the public feels much safer returning to restaurants and pubs when the current lockdown ends in comparison to the first lockdown.

At this moment, would you feel safe or not safe if you did the following:

Eating at a restaurant or drinking at a pub outside.
Population Sampled: Eligible voters in Great Britain
Latest Sample Size: 2,000
Latest Poll Date: 22 March 2021
At this moment, would you feel safe or not safe if you did the following:

Eating at a restaurant or drinking at a pub inside.
Population Sampled: Eligible voters in Great Britain
Latest Sample Size: 2,000
Latest Poll Date: 22 March 2021

Alongside hospitality, the personal care sector (including barbers and hair salons) has suffered from closures during the various lockdowns in the UK. As their reopening approaches, our latest poll finds that 47% would currently feel safe going to a barber or hair salon, whereas 42% would feel unsafe. These figures are similar to what we recorded last summer, shortly after barbers and hair salons reopened: back in July 2020, 43% felt safe and 44% felt unsafe going to a barber or hair salon. Therefore, unlike the hospitality sector, it appears as though the public’s sense of safety at the hair salon is not much higher at the end of this lockdown than at the end of the first lockdown.

However, unlike going to a pub, a haircut is not quite something that many people can continue refraining from, and thus we should not be surprised that many people who say they currently feel unsafe going to a barber or hair salon will visit one regardless upon reopening.

At this moment, would you feel safe or not safe if you did the following: At this moment, would you feel safe or not safe if you did the following:

Going to a barber or hair salon.
Population Sampled: Eligible voters in Great Britain
Latest Sample Size: 2,000
Latest Poll Date: 22 March 2021

Another upcoming reopening is that of non-essential shops, which includes those that sell clothes. At the end of the first lockdown, non-essential shops were allowed to reopen several weeks earlier than the hospitality sector, but then all of hospitality (indoors and outdoors) reopened at once. This time, non-essential shops and outdoors hospitality will reopen first, and outdoors hospitality will follow. Back in July 2020, almost a month after non-essential shops reopened, 43% felt safe and 44% felt unsafe shopping for clothes. Similar to the hospitality sector, the figures from our latest poll convey optimism for the retail sector: 50% said they would currently feel safe shopping for clothing and such items, compared to 40% who said they would feel unsafe.

At this moment, would you feel safe or not safe if you did the following:

Shopping for clothing and such items.
Population Sampled: Eligible voters in Great Britain
Latest Sample Size: 2,000
Latest Poll Date: 22 March 2021

Earlier in the pandemic, before a coronavirus vaccine was discovered and its administration began, the group that was consistently the most fearful of partaking in most activities were those aged 65 or older. This pattern was likely connected to the public’s awareness that older individuals tend to be at much higher risk of suffering badly from coronavirus or even passing away. Now that a large proportion of those aged 65 or above have been vaccinated in the UK, the situation has changed significantly: now it is those in the 45 to 54 age group that feel the most fearful shopping for clothes (only 38% feel safe), whereas the youngest and oldest respondents feel much safer (59% of those aged 18 to 24 would feel safe shopping for clothes, and so would 51% of those aged 65 and older).

The above is also the case for outdoors dining and drinking, which are scheduled to reopen soon. Whereas 61% of those aged 18 to 24 and 53% of those aged 65 and older would currently feel safe at an outdoors restaurant or pub, only 37% of those aged 45 to 54 would feel safe. Once again, these figures are most likely a reflection that the latter age group remains largely unvaccinated, yet has a much higher likelihood of experiencing a bad case of coronavirus than younger unvaccinated individuals, or older but vaccinated ones.

Beyond feeling safe or unsafe partaking in specific activities, another key difference between the end of the first lockdown and the end of the current lockdown is the level of optimism the population has about the pandemic’s trajectory. In early July 2020, our research found that 47% in Great Britain still thought the worst of the pandemic was yet to come, whereas only 36% thought the worst was already behind us. Now, still weeks away from the end of the current lockdown, our latest poll finds that 56% think the worst of the pandemic is behind the UK, compared to only 22% who think the worst is yet to come. These figures indicate that much of the population will approach the upcoming reopening with far more confidence than the previous one, confident in the belief that the worst has passed.

With respect to the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic, where do you feel the UK is at this moment?
Population Sampled: Eligible voters in Great Britain
Latest Sample Size: 2,000
Latest Poll Date: 22 March 2021

Overall, the end of the current lockdown comes with a markedly different attitude among the public than the first lockdown. Last July, when the Government allowed the reopening of most sectors of the economy, large segments of the population remained sceptical about the safety of doing so, and worried that the worst of the pandemic was yet to come. This time, the public feels much safer, and is armed with the confidence that the worst has already passed, and that this might be—at last—the final lockdown.

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.

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