From the onset of summer, the number of confirmed positive cases of and hospital admissions with coronavirus has been creeping upwards across Britain. In England, 5,712 confirmed positive cases on 1 June rose almost six-fold to over 30,000 on 4 July. In Wales, the number of hospital beds occupied by patients hospitalised with covid-related symptoms doubled between 1 June and mid-July, and in Scotland, the daily average of covid-related hospital admissions rose from 90 patients on 1 June to over 170 admissions-per-day on 12 July.
Whereas previous changes in coronavirus statistics were tracked breathlessly by the media, this recent rise in cases has not been as prominently featured in the press. The ongoing pandemic now competes for attention with the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine, and the now weeks-long political drama at the top of the Conservative Party.
Many news organisations have further scaled down their covid coverage or pivoted away from the subject altogether, as ‘reader fatigue’ on covid-related topics has set in amongst many news consumers.
This waning interest in covid-related stories reflects—or, perhaps, reinforces—the overwhelming sense among Britons that things are returning to the pre-pandemic norm. In a poll taken on July 24, 66% of voters report feeling that their life has returned either ‘entirely’ or ‘mostly’ to what was ‘normal’ before March 2020.
As an illustration of this sentiment, Britons appear to be taking an increasingly relaxed attitude towards mask-wearing. 75% of respondents to our first poll in 2022, on 3 January, reported ‘always’ wearing a mask when shopping at the supermarket. Our latest poll finds this figure at only 19%.
Similarly, while over half of respondents (52%) reported ‘always’ wearing a mask on public transport in January, less than 1-in-5 (19%) report ‘always’ doing so as of 24 July. Among those over the age of 65, the demographic most vulnerable to the coronavirus, just 24% report that they ‘always’ wear a mask while shopping, while only 17% say they do so while using public transport (though a sizeable share admits not using public transport).
Altogether, a majority of voters believe the UK government has been taking the right measures to tackle the pandemic, with 52% in our latest poll expressing support for the Government’s approach. Among the older generations most at risk from the disease, 48% of 55-to-64 year olds and 55% of those 65 and over believe the government has been taking the right measures in combating Coronavirus.
When asked to rate a list of activities as either ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, overwhelming majorities marked activities including ‘food shopping’ (81%), ‘visiting a friend’s house’ (80%), and ‘eating at a restaurant or drinking at a pub outside’ (79%) as ‘safe.’
There is a wider degree of hesitancy over the safety of certain other activities, particularly those relating to travel. Over a third of respondents regard ‘taking a flight’ (38%), ‘travelling to another country’ (35%), and ‘travelling to London’ (36%) as ‘unsafe.’ Normality may have returned to many people’s daily activities in their own communities, but hesitancy over travel remains a key barrier to the return of proper ‘normality.’
The recent rise in case numbers may have led some voters to re-assess the likely longevity of the pandemic. While 59% of respondents—including 64% of 55–64-year-olds and 66% of those aged 65+—believed the pandemic was not over in late May, that figure has climbed to 72% in our latest poll.
Overall, public sentiment is generally positive with regards to the direction of the pandemic. In the summer heat, it appears that mask wearing—and the taking of other precautions that became standard during the various lockdowns, such as avoiding pubs and restaurants—has become a minority habit.
Though nervousness still lingers among some, life has returned—more or less—to how it was before March 2020 for the vast majority of the public. As the summer heat gives way to autumn chill, the task for the government and public health authorities will be to reassure the nervous minority that ‘normal’ activities are again safe and, in particular, to continue to ensure that those who do contract the virus continue to be well protected against it.