On the 22 February Boris Johnson revealed his roadmap out of the current lockdown. He promised the transition process would be ‘cautious’ but ‘irreversible’ as the country slowly returns to something resembling normal life. The roadmap aims to have dropped all social distancing measures by the 21 June. For many, this announcement has understandably generated hope and excitement, especially after over a year of confinement to our homes, and Covid-related anxieties and struggles.
But is the roadmap a realistic strategy to free us from lockdowns for good, or is it setting us up for disappointment?
While the five-week gap between the roadmap’s stages is generally viewed as a good idea, the inclusion of dates has been deemed a “dangerous strategy” by behavioural scientists. Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology and member of the behavioural science subgroup of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), warned that the use of dates creates “symbolic messaging” which alters the reality of the situation and creates difficulty in altering the roadmap if needed.
Additionally, the use of dates creates false hope which could impact adherence to rules by the public, regardless of the country’s status. Changing the dates of the roadmap in the event of a mutation or rise in cases would generate resentment among the public, leading to further rule-breaking out of frustration.
Despite government warnings against planning around the dates outlined in the roadmap, surges in ticket purchases for festivals and club nights reflect the public’s blind faith in the government’s plans, solely due to the use of dates.
The public’s lack of hindsight in light of this announcement is frustrating to see. Over the course of the pandemic the government has failed time and time again to manage the spread of the virus. At times, its stubborn attempts to minimise the pandemic’s damage to the economy has directly contributed to the worsening of the crisis, such as the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. How can we be so sure things will go to plan this time?
Furthermore, the government is fully depending on the successful deployment of vaccines and the public playing their part in keeping infections down for their plans to work.
The vaccination programme has started to show signs of faltering in recent weeks, evidenced by the number of vaccinations over the last seven days from the time of writing (6 March) falling by 67,030. This could have adverse impacts on the progress of easing restrictions and the fight against the virus as a whole. The reliance on the vaccine rollout to curb transmission is a very serious mistake, according to Stephen Reicher, who added that high levels of transmission could lead to the undermining of the vaccine through heightened chances of the virus’s mutation. This could be a likely scenario in the event of the premature lifting of restrictions.
While compliance with the rules has been high in recent months, according to Dr Daisy Fancourt, head of University College London’s Covid-19 social study into the psychological and social impact of the pandemic, compliance reduces as restrictions ease due to unclear instructions and inaccurate interpretations of the situation. Therefore, in order for the public to do its part, clear instructions need to be given; both regarding freedoms and the status of the virus.
In all, it’s understandable to view the roadmap with optimism and hope. After over a year of lockdowns and social distancing it’s nice to have something to look forward to in the near future. However, it’s important to remember that the 21 June will not mark the end of the pandemic, and that the roadmap is subject to changes caused by the virus or government mishandling. Only time will tell.
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