The massive impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on individuals’ social behaviour has been unmistakable, though the long-term effects of this disruption remain to be seen. In Great Britain, where most coronavirus restrictions have been lifted for over a month now (two months in England), many Britons are returning to some semblance of ‘normalcy,’ including seeing the people close to them. Yet, the latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies reveals that while Britons are seeing their loved ones substantially more than in the earlier days of the pandemic, in-person interactions with friends and family members remain limited for many.
Slightly over a fifth (22%) of respondents have not seen any friends and family members in person in the past week, and a third (32%) have seen one or two. A further 32% report having seen three to five friends and family members this week, while just 6% have seen six to eight and 8% have seen nine or more. It is important to note that, without pre-pandemic polling on this question, it is impossible to know the extent to which the pandemic influences the number of friends and family members that Britons see.
That being said, there has been a clear increase in the number of friends and family members that Britons have seen in person on a weekly basis compared to when we began asking this question at the pandemic’s peak in January 2021. In fact, the proportion of the British public who had seen zero friends or family members in the past week has decreased thirty points from 52% on 11 January 2021. Six months ago on 15 March, when coronavirus cases were much lower than they currently are, the proportion of Britons who said zero was also noticeably larger, at 36%.
In turn, the share of respondents who have seen three to five friends and family members in person in the past week has grown from 12% in January and 18% in March to 32% in our latest poll. Though it has fluctuated over the past months, the proportion of the British public who had seen one to two friends and family members in person has consistently been between 30% and 40%.
Still, confirming that a meaningful share of the British public continues to not spend time with friends, a third (34%) of Britons say they have spent an average of zero hours a day with a friend in the past week, a figure which increases to 47% for 55-to-64-year-olds and 42% for those aged 65 and above.
A further 42% of respondents have spent less than an hour to three hours per day on average with a friend, while 14% say they were with a friend for an average of four to six hours a day—including 28% of 18-to-24-year-olds. 6% spent 7 to 10 hours and 4% spent 10 or more hours a day on average with a friend in the past week.
Once again, we witness noticeable increases in the hours Britons have spent with friends since we began polling on this matter immediately after ‘Freedom Day’ in England. On 19 July, 43% of respondents reported having spent an average of zero hours with a friend in the past week, a figure which has since decreased by nine points. Conversely, the proportion responding that they were with a friend for less than an hour to three hours has increased slightly from 37%.
Meanwhile, an alternative form of socialising that has been dominant throughout the coronavirus pandemic—interacting with friends and family over telephone or video calls—has remained relatively consistent over the past nine months. In our latest poll, 37% of respondents say they have spoken to one or two friends and family members who they do not live with over the phone or video call in the past week, the same figure we found on 11 January. The proportion of Britons who have spoken to three to five friends and family members by phone or video call has also not changed meaningfully, at 33% in January and 34% in our latest poll.
19% of the British public have not spoken to any friends and family members over the phone or video call in the past week, similar to the 18% we recorded in January. It accordingly seems that, even as restrictions have lifted, the use of telephone and video calls to stay in touch with friends and family members has endured for a majority of Britons—though again, this polling cannot reveal the full impact that the pandemic in particular has had on this behaviour.
As vaccination rates continue to increase and life looks more and more similar to how it did before the pandemic, one can expect the number of friends and family members that Britons interact with in person to increase further, as well as the hours spent with them. Still, it seems that telephone and video calls may be one of the many features of the pandemic that are here to stay, with the vast majority of respondents having used this form of communication in the past week.