Few believe we will be back to normal soon
It is becoming increasingly obvious to most that what we have come to know as the roadmap out of lockdown is no pleasant drive in the country nor the “one way road to freedom” that the Prime Minister promised in February, but rather a long and winding road.
In television interviews a concerned looking Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and the usually bullish Johnson, both now urge caution rather than repeating promises they may be unable to keep.
Dates and deadlines approach and are pushed back as we hear of sharp increases in Covid-19 cases from the variant first detected in India in growing numbers of towns and regions of the UK.
And the Indian variant is not alone in causing fresh fears, with other variants currently under investigation and four dubbed “variants of concern”. Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, who advises the government on Covid-19, has said that the risk of vaccines being less effective in the face of new variants is the main concern that could still lead to a “very major third wave in the autumn.”
“Freedom Day” with the end of all social distancing rules has long been set for 21 June, but the Health Secretary has now indicated that these plans could yet be diluted. “We’ve always known that one of the things that has the potential to knock us off track would be a new variant,” he said in a recent interview.
The Government has not given up on the plan to lift all restrictions on 21 June but has delayed any further announcements until a week earlier.
But Hancock, backed by deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van- Tam, has also played down the likelihood of foreign holidays this year, stressing that the public should only travel to amber list countries for exceptional reasons.
He has also repeated his own promise to holiday in the UK this summer. Any delay in lifting rules on social distancing, mask wearing and working from home guidance will anger Tory MPs who have frequently reminded the Prime Minister he must stick to his roadmap.
And while businesses like pubs and restaurants are desperate for the end of lockdown and a return to full operation, the threat of a third wave could yet mean more twists and turns in the road ahead.
What our surveys show
Well over half of us, 69%, are either “very concerned”, 21%, or “somewhat concerned”, 48%, at the possibility of a third wave of coronavirus cases, or the spread of a vaccine-resistant strain hitting the UK. Much fewer numbers, 18%, are “not very concerned” and just 9% are “not at all concerned”. These worries are illustrated by the answers to our second survey question when we asked how long it would be before we get back to “normal” and 37% said it would be “more than a year”, a further 35% thought “six months to a year” and an optimistic 17% reckoned up to six months. The die-hard pessimists amongst us, 7%, think things will “never” return to normal and 4% said they “don’t know”.
But should the worst happen and a third wave strikes, would we support another lockdown? Back in 2020, public support for lockdown was strong, with our polls showing 70% or more in favour. Now that support has slipped, with just a small majority, 52% saying, “Yes” in answer to our third question, while 20% replied, “No” and a significant number, 28%, say they “don’t know.”