Last week, the Prime Minister announced that social gatherings in England will be limited to groups of six from the 14th of September, which has been interpreted by some as the precursor to the start of another lockdown period. There is hope that the new restrictions will help curb England’s rising COVID cases, which are doubling every eight days. Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ poll, conducted just before the Prime Minister’s announcement, provides the latest public attitudes towards the virus in London.
London has seen a slower rise in case numbers compared to many areas in the rest of the country. Public Health England estimates that one in six Londoners had already caught the virus by late June, compared to the national average of between one in fourteen and one in twenty. Other factors such as a higher proportion of the public working from home and a population willing to comply with social distancing measures after an initially steep outbreak in March may also explain London’s lower rate of case rise. Overall, we found that Londoners feel equally as safe or safer than they did last month when partaking in any of the sixteen activities polled.
Visiting a museum (+7%) saw the sharpest increase, which will hopefully increase footfall in a sector that remains financially vulnerable.
There were also noticeable rises in the proportion of respondents feeling safe eating at a restaurant both inside (+6%) and outside (+5%), which will come as a relief to many restaurant owners given their concerns that the benefits they enjoyed from the Eat Out to Help Out scheme would be short-lived. Our results showed further good news for other businesses, with respondents feeling comparatively safer going to the gym (+5%) and staying at a hotel (+5%).
A recent gathering in Trafalgar Square of hundreds of anti-lockdown protestors, who claim coronavirus is a hoax and that masks are repressive and unnecessary, has raised concerns that there is a previously silent segment of the capital taking the threat of the virus less seriously. However, our poll found that the proportion who feel safer when others wear masks remains a strong majority at 75% – with no change from the level recorded last month.
Laws to make face coverings mandatory on public transportation and supermarkets continue to see broad levels of self-declared compliance, with 60% and 64% respectively answering that they always wear masks in the following places.
While there are positive signs that diners will continue to frequent restaurants, footfall remains approximately 63% lower than its pre-pandemic levels. In the West End alone, estimates suggest that the district is likely to lose more than £5 billion in retail and hospitality sales, while 50,000 jobs are also at risk. In order to boost sales, the Government or hospitality industry stakeholders may be advised to encourage or even enforce their staff to wear masks, which are currently optional. At this stage, a majority (58%) would be more likely to visit a restaurant or pub if the staff wore masks.
Although Londoners generally feel safer than they did in August, they remain pessimistic about the future of the pandemic. Some boroughs, such as Redbridge as well as Barking and Dagenham, have seen sharp rises in new cases, and now appear ominously close to the level that has seen other regions enter local lockdowns. Furthermore, there are fears that the real level of infection in the capital may be higher, as test and trace system data shows that fewer than half of ‘close contacts’ of infected people are being monitored and communicated with. Our poll found that a majority (56%) of the London public believe another lockdown in the capital is likely, which is down marginally from last month’s 60%.
On the whole, Londoners appear to feel safer carrying out a variety of ordinary activities, perhaps reflecting a lag effect of the reduction and stabilisation in cases that occurred over summer. However, the capital also acknowledges that the relatively relaxed measures may be short-lived, especially as the reopening of schools puts additional pressure on a rising R number.