Public on Coronavirus Response: Late Better than Never

April 3, 2020
Coronavirus | Healthcare

The British Public is very welcoming of the current lockdown measures imposed by the Government according to Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ most recent poll of 1,500 in Great Britain on Wednesday. As we reported last week, a poll we finished conducting just half an hour before Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announced the most draconian restrictions on peoples’ lives in modern British history found a public largely ready for such measures.

A little more than a week later, members of the public indicated that they overwhelmingly backed the current national lockdown, with 89% of respondents to our poll expressing approval of the decision and only 4% expressing disapproval.

In fact, a majority of respondents even believed that this decision came too late, something we at Redfield & Wilton Strategy warned in the beginning of March, especially when we looked at the situation in Italy.

The public may be forgiving, especially given the spectacular failure of nearly every Western government to respond at the appropriate time to this pandemic. Our poll has, in fact, broadly shown the public to be moving towards broader approval of the Government’s measures to date.

In early and mid-March, 44% of respondents to our poll thought the Government’s response had been ‘adequate.’ At the same time, 41% and then 47% of respondents thought the Government’s response had fallen far short. Now, in our latest poll on Wednesday, a majority of respondents indicated that they thought the Government’s response had been adequate with 38% saying the response had fallen far short, signifying a clear shift in public opinion.

Of course, it is difficult to go even further than the stay-at-home measures currently in place. It is actually remarkable how few respondents think the current response is an overreaction. People clearly take this threat seriously. They very clearly understand that they will save lives by staying home. 

One aspect of the shutdown where the public is in significant disagreement with the Government, however, is flights. Travellers are still allowed to fly in and out of the United Kingdom, even while members of the public are asked to stay at home. Although it is clear that far fewer people are coming into the country than normal, members of the public do not understand why even anyone can be allowed in, potentially bringing into the country a fresh case of the virus.

Instead of simply referring to the recommendations of experts, the Government must explain why passenger-carrying commercial flights from hotspots such as the United States, Italy and China continue to come into the country every day. If someone can demonstrate that such flights do not carry passengers at all and are only for cargo or that the passengers who are taking such flights pose no risks to the public, the public will be accepting. Otherwise, they will feel disrespected as they are asked to restrict their movements to their households while others are allowed to freely move across borders.

Beyond the shutdown, the area of response under most scrutiny at this moment is healthcare capacity, particularly testing. The more tests that are carried out, the more the Government will know about the scale of the problem. For instance, if someone is shown to have had the coronavirus already through an antibody test, the Government may take the risk of assuming that such a person is immune to the virus, is no longer shedding the virus, and is therefore allowed to return to a more normal life.

Our Wednesday poll found that 17% of respondents believed that they had the coronavirus already with an additional 7% believing that they have the coronavirus now. As the symptoms of coronavirus are so similar to those of other common illnesses such as the common cold and the seasonal flu, the actual number of people who have had the virus could be lower. Even then, however, clearing a segment of the population to go back to work or to fill in for essential workers could be essential to the long-term response to this crisis.

Testing can also indicate where the virus has spread and, just as importantly, not spread. If any area of the country is coronavirus-free, it does not make sense to continue keeping that area under lockdown.

Asked about the feasibility of the Government to carry out mass testing at a scale such that a majority of the public is tested, a majority of respondents expected such a plan to indeed be feasible.

People are clearly happy and understanding about the shutdown. They are now doing their part to address this crisis. Now, they are asking the Government to do its part too.

This research was also published in The Daily Mail Online.

Data tables for this research can be found here. 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.