As daily cases in the UK rose above 3,000 and the Government imposed a rule limiting social gatherings to 6 participants, pessimism surrounding the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic increased by 12% compared to our polling two weeks ago. At this moment, half (51%) of the UK public feel that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come, and only 27% think the worst is now behind the UK.

Belief that the worst of the pandemic lies ahead is the highest we have seen throughout the whole summer. In early June, 47% of respondents thought the worst was yet to come, which declined to a range of 36-42% in the months of July and August.  

While many respondents in our earlier September polling were unsure about the future direction of the pandemic, there is a growing feeling that things will now take a turn for the worse. In our poll this week, 62% think that another nationwide lockdown is likely to happen, compared to just 16% who think that it is unlikely. The proportion of respondents who believe a second nationwide lockdown is likely has risen together with news of a second wave hitting Europe.

Notably, despite the economic and social consequences of another period of lockdown, a majority (51%) of respondents would approve of a second lockdown this year, compared to 23% who would disapprove.

Whereas a majority (62%) of respondents said that in the event of another nationwide lockdown, they would adhere to all the rules, a quarter (25%) of respondents said they would adhere to most of the rules and 8% said they would adhere to some of the rules. These figures suggest that some members of the public will not fully comply with the rules implemented as part of a second nationwide lockdown.

A clear majority (61%) approve of the Government’s decision to limit all social interactions to groups of six, while less than a fifth (18%) disapprove. Particularly strong support for the latest measure may be related to public hope that the policy can effectively stop the spread of coronavirus before a second nationwide lockdown becomes necessary.

Moreover, less than a third (31%) feel that groups larger than six should be allowed outdoors, while 60% of the public agree with the Government’s decision to apply the Rule of Six to both outdoor and indoor spaces.

Thinking about the long-term progress of the coronavirus pandemic, 29% think it is likely to be over in a year’s time, whereas 38% do not.

Respondents who voted for Labour in the 2019 election were more pessimistic about the future course of  the pandemic and expressed greater criticism for the Government than respondents who voted for the Conservative party in 2019. We have noted this trend throughout our polling, but it is particularly prominent when respondents were asked if another lockdown would represent Government failure. Among those who voted Conservative in 2019, a minority (26%) thought a second lockdown would indicate failure on the Government’s part, compared to a majority (58%) of Labour voters.

Part of the widespread pessimism in the UK in regard to the coronavirus pandemic may be due to the lack of a coronavirus vaccine, which some hoped to have ready by October. A team at the University of Oxford has seen some promise at the clinical trial level, however experts have said even if a coronavirus vaccine is proven effective by the end of the year, it is unlikely to become widely available for some time. Among the public, hopes for a vaccine remain limited, with only 36% thinking a vaccine is likely within the next year.

If a vaccine were to be developed, 63% of respondents would get vaccinated, although around a fifth (18%) would not. The proportion of respondents who would willingly be vaccinated has dropped by 5% compared to our research conducted in July, which may reflect the public’s concern that vaccine trials may be rushed and companies may compromise on vaccine quality and safety.

Throughout September, the Government has focused on the reopening of schools, as well as campaigning to get workers back to the office. A clear majority (56%) of respondents support the Government’s campaign encouraging workers to return to the office, whereas 17% oppose. Support for the campaign has increased by five points since the 1st of September.

Despite general support for the Government’s back to office campaign, our poll shows no significant increase over the past fortnight in the proportion of the public who have been asked to return to work by their employers, nor the proportion who have actually returned to work. At this stage, only 19% of those who worked in an office before the pandemic but worked from home during the lockdown have returned to working from their office full-time. Meanwhile, 42% of this subgroup continues to only work remotely, whereas 38% are splitting time between remote work and the office.

At this point in the year, and with cases continuing to rise, it is likely that firms have finalised their plans for potential return scenarios. This week, those who are still only working remotely were less optimistic than two weeks ago about when they would return full-time in-person. In our poll on 15 September, only 35% of those who continue to work remotely full-time thought they would return to the office part-time by the end of 2020, while just 23% expect to return to work in-person on a full-time basis this year.

Two weeks ago, when we simply asked respondents when they expected to return to in-person work on a full-time basis, without providing an option for a part-time basis, 40% expected to return to in-person work this year. Given the difference in how we asked the question, and that it is indeed later in September, we cannot easily compare these two results. Notably, this variation in how our question was asked did reveal that a significant portion of this group that is currently working full-time from home expects to work at least part-time indefinitely.

Meanwhile, workers who are already working in-person on a part time basis are more confident in an imminent full-time return: 63% of those currently working partly from home think they will return to the office full-time by the end of 2020.

Our polling also revealed significant variance in how those working partly from home and partly from the office are allocating time between both settings: 28% are working from home one day per week, 39% two days per week, 15% three days per week, and 17% one day per week.

At this point, a clear majority (55%) of respondents agree that employees should have the right to keep working from home even if the Government allows their traditional workplace to re-open, while only around a third (34%) believe businesses should have the right to ask their staff to return to their traditional workplaces as soon as the Government allows their traditional workplaces to re-open. Opinion has remained stable compared to our polling a fortnight ago. Likewise, 2019 Conservatives voters continue to be far more likely (48%) to believe that businesses have the right to ask their staff to return than 2019 Labour voters (25%).

While the public acknowledges that it is important for the Government to do what it can to stimulate the economy, the recent spike in cases and perceived likelihood of an impending second lockdown has caused some resistance to the back to the office campaign.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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