Coronavirus has left Britons scared to go outside. And can you blame us? | Joel Golby | Opinion

Rare to hear that our government has done something “too well”, but it seems they’ve finally managed it. As the Financial Times reported on Friday, government messaging has successfully scared Britons into staying inside, so successfully that we are now too afraid to ever go outside again, and now various departments are left scratching their heads and wondering how to get people to leave the house once (if) the lockdown is lifted.

I know he got into recreating film scenes during the general election with that Love Actually sign-writing stunt, but I can’t help but feel that Boris Johnson standing outside, beckoning us with a “come out and work … there’s nothing to worry about!” placard has more than a hint of horror about it, as if he’ll be holding a single red balloon while he does it, like the clown from It. First day out I’m going to lose my paper boat to a storm drain and Dominic Raab is going to be standing there, isn’t he, motionlessly doing that stare of his, like he’s trying to start a fight with a plasterboard wall. “Did you enjoy your furlough, Joely?” he’s saying, and I just sadly nod. Then his jaw creaks back as if to swallow me whole and he roars: “Back to work! Back to work! Everybody! Work work work work!”

After polling across 14 countries, Ipsos Mori has found that Britons are more concerned than others about returning to normal activities – like moving through the crowds at Cheltenham or attending a Stereophonics gig – with 70% of respondents opposing the opening of the economy before the virus is under control, and 71% saying they’d be nervous about leaving the house even if businesses were allowed to reopen and travel restrictions were lifted.

Personally I’d love to get inside the mind of the 30% of people who think we should open the economy up before coronavirus is really dealt with – please, Mr Johnson, let me catch a lethal disease from co-working in a coffee shop, I just want to experience society again – but the more important point is that alleviating this national “fear” is somehow being portrayed as a more important problem for the government to solve than, like, the pandemic virus that is still sweeping around us. I’d rather they sort a vaccine out before they drill down into the messaging of un-scaring us, but that’s just me. I think what would make me least scared of all would be a robust and workable public health policy that isn’t “herd immunity” or “making it seem like you’ve done 100,000 tests”.

“We do need to have some sort of campaign to encourage people who are very low risk to actually get out and start living again when we’re able to,” Prof David Spiegelhalter told the BBC, adding that fear among British citizens was “very worrying” and that we were “definitely overanxious” about coronavirus. There’s another pertinent Ipsos Mori stat that perhaps explains that anxiety, though, and that comes from their weekly coronavirus trend poll: 66% of Britons now believe the government acted too late in enforcing stricter lockdown measures. You can understand why those same people might be a little jittery about being told – by those same people, by the way – that the tide is turning.

Good, then, that “going outside” took a big PR blow over the weekend, with a small-but-loud protest from a select group of galactic-brained 5G truthers outside Westminster, demanding that they be let outside again. Politics Joe managed to capture the best of it, successfully vox popping all three major arms of the conspiracy community: the “Quiet Academic Type Who You Think is Making a Good Point Until They Invoke Nazi Germany”, the “Man Who Speaks a Monstered Version of Legalese That Has Been Exclusively Learned From Facebook Posts”, and, most classically of all, “0% Bodyfat Lad Who Talks at the Same Volume as Most People Yell and Who Constantly Turns Around to See if There’s Someone Else He Can Yell at Instead”. If they all want to go outside together then, frankly, let them.

While I’m obviously happy to let protesters like these take the first few sips of beer from the reopened pubs when lockdown eventually lifts, modern canaries down the lager mines, the looming issue of a relaxed lockdown is becoming more and more charged. We all want to go out, don’t we? And most of us agree that right now that is a bad idea. But also … well, we all want to go out, don’t we, and as long as that remains true, the number of voices clamouring for it will only increase. Basically: I don’t trust big-brained business types who seem to conflate “open up the economy” with “let more low-paid workers take bigger risks so bosses can make money again” (though let’s not pretend the inevitable-looking stall in the economy isn’t going to hit these workers the hardest). Nor do I really trust the government which got it wrong on locking down to get it right on opening up. And I don’t trust the 5G protesters, either.

Who do I trust? I’m staring at Raab in the storm gutter again, still unblinking. It’s not him either. Nor is it Johnson with the single balloon. Perhaps this is how the fear will manifest itself over the coming weeks and months, as a new social movement defined by mistrust: paranoid stay-indoorsers, waiting for a triple-lock all-clear from the World Health Organization before they venture onto a bus again. It could be months after the economy opens up before people dare to go properly outside again. I’m not sure, after all this, government messaging alone is going to convince them.

Joel Golby is the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant

Source link