Britain’s approach reflects the hyper-rationalist self-image of a prime minister who has not always hewed so closely to scientists in the past, as when he late trafficked in discredited theories about climate change.
In this instance, Mr. Johnson has fashioned himself as the dispassionate answer to leaders across Europe who have acted more aggressively.
But his government is not immune from public alarm, signaling late Friday night that it would reverse course on at least some aspects of its approach. It told British news outlets that it would ban some mass gatherings, like sporting matches and concerts, starting next weekend, and lay the groundwork for more widespread working at home. So far, in the absence of government-mandated shutdowns, private entities in Britain have taken up the slack. Unilever, the British-Dutch consumer goods company, said on Friday that it was ordering all its office-based employees to work from home starting next week. And the Premier League, England’s highest-level soccer league, suspended games until at least next month. Mr. Johnson’s government itself moved on Friday to postpone hundreds of local elections and the London mayoral election for a year after a watchdog said the coronavirus would affect campaigning and voting.