In the United Kingdom, there have now been over 3,000 confirmed cases of a variant of the coronavirus first detected in India, but health officials warn that the actual number of cases is likely much higher, as the mutation is believed to be more transmissible than other variants of the virus. The spread of the Indian variant may threaten the Government’s current roadmap for reopening the UK, potentially delaying the current plan to lift social distancing restrictions on 21 June. 

The latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies indicates that the British public is divided on what the Government should do in light of the Indian variant of coronavirus: 46% say the Government should continue its current roadmap for ending social distancing, as long as all targets are met, whereas 43% say the Government should delay its roadmap, even if all targets are being met. 

Interestingly, a greater proportion of respondents who have received a coronavirus vaccine (47%) than those who have not received a vaccine (35%) are in favour of the Government delaying the current roadmap for ending social distancing. This result may largely be a factor of age, as the youngest age groups (and thus those who are the least likely to have received a vaccine) are the least supportive of delaying the roadmap, at 31% of 25-to-34-year-olds and 39% of 18-to-24-year-olds. Meanwhile, a slight plurality of respondents aged 35 to 44 (48%), 45 to 54 (48%), and 65 or older (47%) would prefer the Government delay the current roadmap. 

Although Britons are divided on whether the Government should lift restrictions, the majority (56%) of respondents believe it is likely that all social distancing restrictions will be lifted on 21 June, with 37% believing this prospect is unlikely to occur. 

The British public is also split on what approach the Government should take if further action is deemed necessary to contain the Indian variant. Almost half (48%) of respondents are in favour of localised lockdowns, an approach which the UK Government says it has not ruled out. Alternatively, a fifth of Britons each would prefer a national lockdown (20%) or no more lockdowns (21%)

A plurality of all age groups say the Government should implement localised lockdowns, though a significant 33% of 25-to-34-year-olds and 30% of 18-to-24-year-olds say there should be no further lockdowns, reflecting the great frustration that young Britons in particular are feeling towards coronavirus restrictions. 

Regardless of which approach the UK Government decides to take with respect to easing restrictions, the British public appears fairly confident that the coronavirus vaccines will protect against the new variant, which will likely be the best way to combat the variant’s spread. 58% of Britons say they trust the scientific evidence that suggests vaccines protect against new variants of the coronavirus, while just 14% do not trust the evidence. A considerable 28% say they are not sure whether to trust the scientific evidence that suggests vaccines protect against new variants.  

Trust in the evidence varies substantially with age: 69% of those aged 55 to 64 and 65 or over say they trust the scientific evidence that suggests vaccines will protect against new variants, in contrast to 43% of 18-to-24-year-olds. 2019 Conservative voters (68%) are also substantially more likely to trust the scientific evidence than 2019 Labour voters (50%), as are those who have received a vaccine (64%) when compared to those who have not (45%).  

The results of this research suggest that the British public is not overly concerned about the Indian variant of coronavirus. This assumption is also reaffirmed by the fact that a majority (60%) of respondents say they would feel comfortable (or at least more comfortable than uncomfortable) mixing with other people from outside their household in enclosed spaces—including 55% of those who have received a vaccine and 70% of those who have not received a vaccine.

Indeed, Britons’ feelings of safety in public spaces are still relatively high—although in some circumstances, they have decreased in recent weeks, as outbreaks of the Indian variant of coronavirus have prompted Government officials to express concern. Despite recent slight decreases, however, the proportion of respondents who respond ‘safe’ when asked about their evaluation of a number of social scenarios is nevertheless higher than it was a month ago, as 58% now say they would feel safe shopping for clothing and such items, 60% say they would feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a pub outside, and 45% say they would feel safe doing the same inside.

Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Poll: 24 May 2021 | Sample Size 2,000
Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Poll: 24 May 2021 | Sample Size 2,000
Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Poll: 24 May 2021 | Sample Size 2,000

Furthermore, 56% say they would feel safe visiting a friend’s house and 32% say they would feel safe going to the gym, both figures also representing an increase since the end of April despite a slight decrease in recent weeks.  

Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Poll: 24 May 2021 | Sample Size 2,000
Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Poll: 24 May 2021 | Sample Size 2,000

A similar pattern emerges with respect to how Britons view the coronavirus pandemic more broadly: a majority (56%) of respondents feel the worst of the pandemic is behind the UK—a figure which, while still high, has decreased from 63% on 10 May. Uncertainty about the pandemic’s end appears to be growing in turn, with 24% in our latest poll (compared to 18% two weeks ago) saying they don’t know where the UK is at with respect to the timeline of the pandemic. 

Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Poll: 24 May 2021 | Sample Size 2,000

Similarly, over half (53%) of Britons continue to believe the UK Government is currently taking the right measures to address the coronavirus pandemic, but this figure has also experienced a decrease from 61% on 10 May. In the past two weeks, the proportion of respondents who believe the Government is not taking the right measures has likewise increased from 25% to 32%, possibly reflecting gradually growing concerns about ending restrictions in light of the Indian variant. 

Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Poll: 24 May 2021 | Sample Size 2,000

Overall, concerns over the Indian variant of coronavirus—its transmissibility, its potential to delay the current roadmap to lift restrictions, and vaccines’ ability to protect against it—do not appear overwhelming among the British public, but worries do seem to be growing alongside confirmed cases of the variant. Though respondents are split on whether the lifting of social distancing restrictions should go ahead as planned, the majority nevertheless expect this will happen, in the context of a UK that on the whole feels mostly safe returning to normal life. With a high level of trust in the vaccines’ efficacy against new variants, Britons seem hopeful that the Indian variant will not deprive the nation of its long-awaited reopening.

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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