The Express: UK faces unexpected threat as ‘coronaphobia’ risks economic recovery

THE coronavirus lockdown has left more than two-thirds of Britons frightened to go to football matches, live shows, and other big public events, a new survey has suggested, dealing a blow to hopes of a swift economic recovery.

The UK economy remains effectively closed, with no guarantees about when businesses will be able to reopen, and the Government pushing the slogan Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS. However, the research, published by IpsoMORI today, suggests the message have worked rather too well, with 67 per cent of respondents saying they would feel uncomfortable going to large public gatherings, such as sports or music events, compared to how they felt prior to the pandemic.

By contrast, just 17 percent said they would feel comfortable attending such events.

Additionally, more than three in five – 61 percent – also felt uncomfortable at the prospect of using public transport, raising serious questions about how easy it will be to persuade them to return to offices when measures are eased.

The same percentage applies in terms of going out bars and restaurants, with just 29 percent happy to do so, and even fewer – 21 percent – comfortable about using public transport to get there.

Young people were the most at ease with going out to eat and drink, with 36 percent of 18 to 34-year olds happy at the prospect, compared with just 22 percent of those aged 55 to 75.

Similarly, young people are most willing to head to large public gatherings. A quarter of 18 to 34s (26 percent) would be comfortable going to a sports match or music event compared to just nine percent of 55 to 75s.

Britons are happier with the idea of meeting friends and family outside their homes, with 62 percent saying this would not present a problem for them, although almost a third – 33 percent – were unconvinced.

However, younger people are less enthusiastic, with just 57 percent saying they were happy at the idea, compared with 64 percent of those aged 35 to 75.

Worryingly for retailers, sizeable minorities were unsure about the idea of shopping as well, with 39 percent unhappy at the idea of going to supermarkets and 43 percent likewise unhappy at going to other shops.

Fewer than half (49 percent) of people currently in work were comfortable at the idea of returning to their jobs, while a clear majority of parents (48 percent) were uneasy at the prospect of sending children back to school, compared with 41 percent who were happy to do so.

Keiran Pedley, Research Director at Ipsos MORI said: “The public are looking forward to seeing family members again in person and a clear majority are comfortable doing so.

“However, there is clear unease at other consequences of the lockdown ending. In particular, clear majorities of Britons are nervous about using public transport again or going to bars, restaurants or live music and sporting events.

“These numbers suggest that it will take some time for parts of the British economy to return to any semblance of normality, even after lockdown has ended.”

Professor Tony Travers of LSE London highlighted the issue last month, telling “Many people have been convinced by the Government to stay home because of the dangers leaving home presents both to them and to the NHS.

“How many of them are really going to want to send their children to schools to go out and mingle with people after this?

“We’ll only find out when we get there. But I suspect a lot of people are going to be mildly traumatised by this and are not going to be willing suddenly to rush out again.

“And by the way, presumably, everybody will be told until is a vaccine that if they get a cough or cold, they better go home.

“So the impacts on the economy are not going to be just a sudden step down from lockdown to normal, but a series of slow steps over a long time, meaning the economic impact is clearly going to be much more than three months.”

John Penrose, MP for Weston-super-Mare, who has called for a gradually lifting of restrictions, told “This shows people are worried. We need new ‘lockdown lite’ rules so we know what’s safe and what’s not.

“Everyone wants to know how to get back to normal safely, without risking infection.

“We’ve all got used to queuing safely outside supermarkets, and keeping our distance when we’re inside. Now we need new rules so we can visit clothes shops, garden centres or museums safely too.

“Everyone is worried about sports events and festivals, but summer is coming so the new ‘lockdown lite’ rules need to be clear about the risks of infection.”

The online survey of 1,066 adults aged between 18 and 75 took place between April 24 and 27.