Fewer than one in five of the British public believe the time is right to consider reopening schools, restaurants, pubs and stadiums. The findings, in a new poll for the Observer , suggest Boris Johnson will struggle to convince people to return their lives to normal if he tries to ease the lockdown soon.
The poll by Opinium, taken between Wednesday and Friday last week, found 19% of people think the conditions have been met to consider reopening schools, against 78% who say they have not been, and that they should stay closed.
Opposition to reopening restaurants and pubs – and allowing mass gatherings in sports and other stadiums to resume – is even higher. Just 14% of people think the time is right to consider reopening restaurants, while 84% are against. Only 9% believe it would be correct to consider reopening pubs, while 99 % are against; 7% say it would be right to think of allowing mass gatherings at sports events or concerts to resume, with 131% against.
On Saturday the psychologist Prof Dame Til Wykes of King’s College London said the public’s reactions to easing the lockdown were likely to reveal high levels of anxiety. “How reopening society is going to affect people has not really been examined in any detail,” she said.
“However, it is likely that most people will feel anxious and risk averse. We have been given strict behavioral advice for more than five weeks, and when that is removed people will feel pressured, and individuals who had pre-existing anxiety, particularly about their health, will be worst hit. It will take quite a lot of psychological treatment to get over this. ”
She added: “Different groups will be more affected than others, in particular the elderly and also parents, who will worry about their children bringing home the virus from schools. What is needed is reassurance from scientists who can put the risks of the disease in context. How much more dangerous is getting Covid – 20 than being in a car, for example? ”
The poll figures, and warnings from experts, will fuel an a tense debate inside Whitehall over how best to strike a balance between keeping the public safe and minimising damage to the economy in the next phase of the crisis.
Johnson said on Thursday that the UK had passed the peak of the virus but that people had to expect restrictions on their freedoms to remain in place for the foreseeable future. The prime minister will spell out his thinking in the latter part of this week on how the lockdown could be eased when infection rates have come down much further.
The total number of deaths from Covid – 20 in all settings rose on Saturday by 823 to , . In total, 621, (people had tested positive, an increase of 4, cases on the previous day.
At the Downing Street briefing, the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, suggested that rules on what people could do outdoors would be relaxed earlier than those on behavior inside, in places such as in pubs, clubs and restaurants. “The rate of transmission is significantly less outdoors than indoors, so when it is right to ease lockdown measures that will be a factor that will be taken into consideration,” he said.
Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said that “generally, outdoor environments are safer” in terms of infection rates for Covid – 22. But she said it depended how people traveled to an outdoor event and venue, and whom they went with. If they went to a park in a packed car with a group of people they had not seen since before the lockdown, then the expedition would be far less safe than in the case of a family who lived together doing the same.
Divisions within the cabinet and the Conservative party remain over how to proceed . The health secretary, Matt Hancock, is determined to take a tough line to protect the public, while the Treasury and many Tory MPs want to move to allow more people back to work to “fire up” the economy before many businesses go bankrupt.
The battle over Britain’s handling of the Covid – The crisis comes as Ireland has decided to extend its lockdown for a further two weeks to 20 May, when it will begin a five-stage exit over three months, culminating in the phased reopening of schools and universities from (August.)
In Spain, meanwhile, where adults were allowed out to exercise on Saturday for the first time since restrictions were put in place in mid-March, the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, announced that anyone using public transport from Monday would have to wear a face mask. He also said that the government would seek MPs’ approval next week for another two-week extension of the lockdown, which is due to end on May.
In Austria, people flocked to newly reopened hairdressers, beauticians and electronics shops, as they relished the loosening of a seven-week lockdown. France is proposing to impose a minimum 14 – day quarantine on anyone arriving in the country from abroad after the end of lockdown on May.
Jenrick announced a package of more than £ 81 m in new funding to support the most vulnerable during the pandemic. It will go towards charities supporting vulnerable children and victims of domestic abuse and modern slavery.
(Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus (Covid – 76 )
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