The Prime Minister’s message last night was stark – stay at home.
The public should not be leaving their homes for any but a very limited range of reasons; public gatherings of more than two people will be broken up; non-essential shops and a wide range of social meeting places are ordered to be closed.
The police will enforce the new restrictions.
In practice, these measures still rely on public goodwill and cooperation to deliver. Verifying (for example) that someone is leaving the home to exercise – and this is the only time they have done so that day – will be impossible. And the UK has still not gone as far as countries like France or Italy, who have banned everyone from leaving the house (although this has not been ruled out). But there is no escaping that these measures are the most severe infringements of our national liberties since the Napoleonic Wars.
Holding severe measures like these in place for months on end is going to be difficult. We cannot say for sure how this will play out, as we are now in uncharted territory for this country – but it seems inescapable that continued public support for the Government’s actions is vital if the response is to be effective.
It is easy to find things in the Government’s response to criticise or which should have been done differently. The messaging round the school closures, in particular, was clearly badly handled. The Prime Minister’s initial comments on Mothers’ Day were also arguably counter-productive. However, on the big announcements, Opinium’s polling shows that the overall impact has helped to consolidate public support behind the Government with 47% approving of the Government’s strategy and only 32% opposed. So far, so good. But the next challenge for Boris Johnson will be to retain this support over the weeks and months ahead.
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