The British public are increasingly concerned that Boris Johnson’s plans to reopen pubs, restaurants, cinemas, galleries and hairdressers this weekend are premature, according to new research, after scenes of crowded beaches sparked fears that the infection rate in the UK could rise.
The Prime Minister’s announcement last week that hospitality businesses in England are set to reopen this Saturday had initially garnered strong support from the public, a snap poll from YouGov found.
However, further polling conducted over the weekend showed that public support for the changes continues to wane as England edges towards its “Indepence Day” on 4 July.
Public support for hospitality businesses to reopen this weekend has dropped from 64 per cent to 55 per cent, according to YouGov, as opposition to the new measures has hiked from 29 per cent to 38 per cent.
Almost half of people now think the new changes go too far in relaxing the rules, as Johnson prepares to ditch the two-metre social distancing rule for new “one metre-plus” guidance, that will allow the public to socialise in closer proximities providing they take “mitigating precautions”, such as wearing a face mask and gloves.
This compares to 37 per cent of people who last week thought the lockdown lifting measures went too far. The same figure now thinks the balance is “about right”, down from 47 per cent in the wake of Johnson’s announcement.
It comes as chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty issued a stern warning last week that coronavirus cases “will rise again” if people ignore social distancing guidelines, after scenes of bustling beaches during the hot summer weather sparked widespread outrage.
A “major incident” was declared in Bournemouth last week after thousands of sunseekers flouted lockdown rules to flock to the beach.
Chris Curtis, political research manager at YouGov, said: “It’s likely that the shift in support was sparked by images of packed beaches and parks over the hot weekend.”
“Polling already shows a large majority of the public are worried about a second wave of coronavirus, so photos and rolling news footage of busy public areas will only reignite those concerns.”
Curtis added that the government must now tread a “fine line… between making customers confident enough to venture out to get the economy going again while at the same time not signalling to the public that social distancing is over.”
Johnson has warned that he “will not hesitate to apply the handbrakes on a local or indeed national level” should the number of infections rise in the country.
Leicester today became the first UK city to enter a full local lockdown, after the city council reported 944 positive tests in the two weeks to 23 June — about one in 16 of the total UK cases during that period.
Non-essential shops have shut in the city and schools will be closed to most pupils for at least two weeks, as the government attempts to quash the spread of new infections.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the city had “10 per cent of all positive cases in the country over the past week”, and that the government would keep the measures under strict review.
The easing of lockdown restrictions in England this Saturday has triggered concern that mass crowds could cause the infection rate in the UK to spike.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said her force has been planning for July 4 “for some time” and that the public will see “a lot” of officers on London streets.
She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We’re planning, we’ve got extra resources in place, we’re talking to people in every way we can think of, we are absolutely prepared.”