We are frequently reminded of polls that show the majority of Brits supporting lockdown measures. In fact, often the public wants the government to go further than it has done. Local officials tend to reflect this sentiment. Mayors of two of the UK’s largest cities — London's Sadiq Khan and Manchester's Andy Burnham — have repeatedly accused the government of not going far enough with its Covid restrictions.
But are attitudes starting to shift? While there’s little data available about the public’s adherence to Covid rules, some evidence is starting to build. A comprehensive study from UCL and Kings College London found that only a fraction of people who said they would self-isolate if required have actually done so. Scottish police broke up over 300 parties last weekend, fining and even arresting people breaking the rule of six.
And this afternoon, we have the first signs of pushback from officials. Andy Preston, mayor of Middlesbrough, announced in a video on social media that the city will ‘defy government’, stating authorities ‘do not accept’ the measures announced today, which would ban households mixing indoors in Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Hartlepool and Warrington:
“I have to tell you that I think this measure has been introduced based on factual inaccuracies and a monstrous and frightening lack of communication and ignorance… As things stand, we defy the government and we do not accept these measures. We need to get Covid under control and we need to work with people to find a way of preserving jobs and mental health.
Preston has previously been supportive of measures to tackle Covid-19. Early last month, he urged residents to wear masks and maintain social distancing so that they could avoid being put under local lockdown. But the mayor is now questioning the 'factual' basis being used to justify these new restrictions. While Covid-19 infections in the UK have been on an upwards trajectory, they have yet to come close to the scenario presented by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance last week, showing the number of infections doubling every seven days.
And while the infection rate does seem to be following France’s trajectory of infections rather closely, Preston’s intervention today suggests Britain could be following French attitudes towards lockdown as well.
This week’s Spectator leader article notes that, just like the UK, there was very little opposition to lockdown in France the first time around. But now President Emmanuel Macron is facing protests from residents as well as local officials, who want to treat the virus as a manageable risk:
“In Marseilles, hundreds of owners of bars and restaurants have taken to the streets in protest, asking for evidence to justify the closure order. The city’s mayor, Michèle Rubirola, complained that the city had not even been consulted.
Something similar is happening in Spain. The leader of Madrid's local government Isabel Díaz Ayuso has rejected the national government’s attempt to return the capital to lockdown, arguing that ‘people get run over every day, but we don’t ban cars’.
While Middlesbrough's mayor is the first to notably break with the political consensus for local lockdowns, the experience of other European countries suggests he may not be the only one to do so. We don't yet know to what extent Middlesbrough will pushback on its local lockdown or refuse to adhere to the new rules. Regardless, it seems increasingly likely that the government will have its criteria for local lockdowns — still not officially published — put under more scrutiny.
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