The UK government’s lockdown restrictions have been easing throughout the summer months with pubs, restaurants, museums, swimming pools, places of worship, libraries, cinemas and more now open again for business. Keen to kick-start the economy, politicians have been urging the public to resume normal life and “enjoy summer safely”, in the form of Boris Johnson’s plea asking workers to return to the office or Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme. However, Redfield & Wilton’s Strategies’ latest research showed resistance to government messaging with a majority of Londoners responding that they did not feel safe doing many Government-sanctioned activities.
Only 39% of Londoners felt safe taking public transportation, 37% felt safe visiting a museum, and 37% felt safe meeting with six or more friends.
Some activities were deemed to be safer than others, such as meeting with one or two friends (69%), going shopping (60%) or going to a pub or restaurant outside (52%). Taking all activities into account, safety concerns appear relatively uniform across age groups and political parties.
When asked how they would feel about returning to work, results were on a knife edge, with 48% of working Londoners feeling safe returning to work compared to 44% feeling unsafe. Only 38% of Londoners felt safe taking public transport, perhaps accentuated by findings in our recent research that a large majority had encountered passengers flouting the mandatory mask rule that came into effect on the 15th of June. Considering that over half of Londoners commute into work on public transport, and that current Tube occupancy is still as low as a quarter of its usual level at this time of year, it seems that any initiative to get London back to work will need to be preceded by a restoration of confidence in the transport system.
A plurality of 47% felt safe travelling to another region of the UK, a positive sign for domestic tourism. However, only 38% felt safe staying in a hotel. Londoners still feel safer travelling to different parts of the UK than travelling abroad, with 27% feeling safe travelling outside the UK and 23% feeling safe travelling by airplane.
While the UK government was delayed in its recommendation of the widespread use of facemasks, it has since changed its tune. Support has been picked up by the public with 75% of Londoners agreeing they feel safer when others around them are wearing a mask.
Beyond the decision to make masks compulsory on public transport, masks became compulsory in all shops from the 24th of July. 77% of Londoners approved of this decision compared to just 9% who disapproved.
However, reported mask usage was lower than approval for the policy. 64% of Londoners said that they always wore masks when going to the supermarket, which falls below the 77% approval rating for the policy, as well as the absolute compliance that is legally required. Furthermore, only 54% of respondents reported to always wear a mask when using public transport, a low figure of compliance even when accounting for the relatively higher number of respondents selecting ‘not applicable.’
It seems that the 24th of July legislation has caused somewhat of a positive effect, since earlier recorded numbers for reported mask usage in London were even lower. In our GB-wide poll conducted on the 15th of July, only 43% of Londoners (note significantly smaller sub-sample) reported to always wearing a mask when shopping at the supermarket. Even though the government set a fine of £100 for flouting the rule, many hold the government in blame for their earlier messaging which claimed that masks were worse than ineffective and that widespread public use would reduce the stock available for key workers.
Over half (54%) of Londoners intend on using the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which offers up to 50% off a meal on Mondays to Wednesdays for the month of August. The scheme has thus far been hugely successful in its aim to bring diners back to restaurants around the Capital, as well as shoring up future support for Chancellor Sunak.
Despite having a lower incidence rate than the north of England, Londoners are pessimistic about the course of coronavirus; 60% believe that another lockdown in London is likely, compared to just 17% who believe it is unlikely. After seeing a local lockdown imposed in Leicester, respondents fear that the government would do the same in London if cases rise, despite the government’s assurance that avoiding another lockdown is a top priority.
While the infection rate has been subdued in London for the past few weeks, there has recently been a slight increase in cases. Hopes that concerns for personal safety and approval of mask legislation would lead to consistent adherence of regulation have not fully materialized and reluctance to return to daily activities, such as going to work, continue to put pressure on the UK’s economy.