The latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that a majority of the British public (56%) thinks that the current level of coronavirus restrictions is set at the right level of strictness, whereas only 18% think they are too restrictive and 26% think they are too relaxed.
Respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 were notably more likely (26% to 27%) to think the current level of restrictions is too restrictive in comparison to respondents aged 35 or older (12% to 18%). At the regional level, our poll finds significant differences, with 31% of respondents in the North East of England saying that the restrictions are too strict, compared to only 11% in the South West of England who say they feel this way. In London, 22% think the current level of restrictions is too restrictive. Politically, very similar proportions of 2019 Conservative voters (16%) and Labour voters (18%) think the current measures are too restrictive, but a higher proportion of Labour voters (30%) than Conservative voters (19%) think the current restrictions are too relaxed.
When it comes to public approval of the Government’s approach to easing restrictions from the current lockdown, the public is roughly split into three: 31% think the Government has been too cautious, 33% think the Government has been too impatient, and 36% think the Government has struck the right balance. There is a political split to these responses, with 48% of 2019 Conservative voters saying the Government has struck the right balance, compared to only 25% of Labour voters. Although similar proportions of Conservative (30%) and Labour (32%) think the Government has been too cautious, far more Labour voters (43%) than Conservative voters (22%) think the Government has been too impatient in easing restrictions to the current lockdown.
When we asked respondents which types of businesses should be allowed to reopen on 8 March (when the Government currently plans to reopen schools in England), the type of business that attracted the most support for reopening on 8 March was hairdressers and barbers, with 39% saying they should be allowed to reopen. Meanwhile, only 24% support allowing pubs and restaurants to reopen on 8 March, and a similar proportion of 25% support allowing gyms and leisure centres to reopen. As for schools themselves—which the Government does intend to reopen on 8 March—a majority of 58% say they support allowing schools to reopen on 8 March. For university classes, however, only 30% support allowing them to restart in-person on 8 March. As for going back to the office, public support is extremely limited: only 18% think office spaces should reopen on 8 March.
As for the mixing of people from different households, only 25% think it should be allowed to happen either immediately or sometime in March. A further 40% thinks that sometime in April or May is more sensible, and as many as 26% think that household mixing should not be allowed until June or later. The age group most likely to support not allowing household mixing until June or later were those aged 45 to 54, 33% of whom support such a timeline. One possible explanation for this support is that they are the oldest age group not yet eligible for a vaccine, and thus they might be less inclined to allow others to mix or to wish to mix themselves.
When it comes to non-essential shops, there is a degree of support for them being allowed to reopen soon: 38% think non-essential should be allowed to reopen immediately or sometime in March, with a further 23% indicating they should be allowed to reopen sometime in April, which cumulatively means that 61% think non-essential shops should reopen in April at the latest.
On the other hand, a majority of respondents (50%) think that restaurants and bars should not be allowed to reopen until May, June, or later. Only 22% think their reopening should be allowed either immediately or sometime in March.
Ultimately, the public sentiment is currently one of extreme caution: a majority of British respondents (54%) now say that coronavirus restrictions should only be lifted once most of the United Kingdom has been vaccinated, compared to only 34% who think they should be lifted once all vaccine priority groups have been vaccinated. If the Government were to follow public sentiment on this, it would essentially push the tentative reopening date from sometime in April to sometime in August, or perhaps even later.
Despite lockdown fatigue, the public does not wish for the Prime Minister to promise that this lockdown is the last, highlight a degree of resignation by the public to the fact that the coronavirus pandemic evolves in somewhat unpredictable ways and therefore promises of reopening are likely to be unfulfillable. At the present moment, two-thirds of the public (62%) do not think the Prime Minister should promise this is the last lockdown.
One potential source of caution for the public is uncertainty about whether vaccination will indeed reduce transmission of the virus. Our research finds that 69% think the Government should wait for more information on the impact of vaccines on the transmission of coronavirus before making decisions on lifting the current lockdown. Only 22% think the Government already has enough information on this matter to be able to make a decision.
Ultimately, the British public remains hopeful that a vaccine will help pave the way out of coronavirus restrictions and is content to wait a little longer under this lockdown. For now, only the reopening of schools has the support of a majority the public.