Dramatic evidence of a growing revolt against the coronavirus lockdowns emerged last night.
The public think the rules won’t work, they will break the law if necessary to see their loved ones and believe it is time to ‘get Britain back to normal’.
These are among the key findings from focus groups that suggest traditional opinion polls have failed to spot a decisive change in attitudes toward the pandemic.
One leading pollster believes Britain could be witnessing a repeat of what happened in the 2015 election and the EU referendum.
Opinion polls forecast Labour’s Ed Miliband would be prime minister and that Brexit would be rejected: focus groups indicated the opposite and were proved right each time.
Since the start of the pandemic most polls have suggested voters support lockdowns and, if anything, want the Government to impose even more stringent curbs.
Some have argued this is because furloughed workers have been able to stay at home on 80 per cent of their normal wages thanks to taxpayer funds.
Many Tory MPs opposed to Boris Johnson’s three-tier lockdown system claim their stance is backed by many of their constituents.
The Daily Mail listened in to one of the focus groups, typical of several that have been conducted recently, and it echoed the MPs’ views.
Carried out last Friday, and comprising a cross-section of society, both Tory and Labour, in London, Birmingham and Liverpool, it appears to show that:
- Voters have lost faith in lockdowns;
- Unlike the first wave, they are no longer prepared to obey all the rules;
- They think the second wave of the virus will be less dangerous;
- They are increasingly worried about the damage to jobs and the economy;
- Many will refuse a coronavirus vaccine for fear of side effects;
- There is continuing fury over rule breakers such as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Dominic Cummings.
Revellers in Sheffield are out on the town for one last night tonight before their city is placed under the strictest lockdown measures, tier three
Police officers arriving in Cardiff city centre at 1745 before Wales will enter a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown at 6pm on Friday in an attempt to protect the country’s NHS from being overwhelmed by the resurgence of coronavirus
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for a meeting of cabinet ministers at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London, England today
People are pictured drinking in Soho, London this evening. A focus group has revealed that people are losing faith in lockdowns and are less willing to obey the rules
20,000 more cases but data suggests outbreak is slowing
The UK yesterday announced 20,530 more coronavirus cases and the deaths of 224 people but official data suggests the country’s outbreak may finally be slowing down.
Positive tests are up 31 per cent on last Friday, when there were 15,650, and deaths have surged by 65 per cent in a week.
But Government scientists claimed the crucial R rate has dropped slightly and an array of statistics revealed cases are no longer growing as quickly as they once were, although the epidemic is still growing.
SAGE estimates the reproduction rate for the UK has fallen for the first time in a month, from between 1.3-1.5 to 1.2-1.4. The number – the key measure at the heart of Number 10’s plan to control the virus – must stay below one, or the outbreak will continue to grow.
James Johnson of JL Partners, who acted as moderator in the focus group, says the findings were the same as those in similar studies he had hosted.
He said the results had convinced him the tide of opinion was turning against lockdowns.
He said that ‘nuanced conversations’ that take place in focus groups, which involve only a handful of people, have ‘uncovered hidden truths’ about the pandemic and attitudes to the Government’s lockdown strategy.
Mr Johnson, who advised Theresa May in Downing Street, argues that the focus groups show a resolve to rely on common sense to avoid catching the virus rather than Government diktats.
Voters are ‘fatigued’ by the curbs and not prepared to carry on being compliant, especially when they see high-profile figures flouting them.
The public, he said, were confused by the rules and were as likely to watch comedian Matt Lucas parody Boris Johnson’s stuttering Downing Street press conferences as watch the Prime Minister himself.
Mr Johnson says that on certain issues the intimate atmosphere of his focus groups enables participants to reveal their true feelings.
This is in contrast to box ticking opinion polls where around 1,000 voters are invited to give a flat yes or no answer to dozens of questions, usually online.
In his most recent focus group, Liverpool pensioner Brian complained: ‘People with cancer, heart conditions, strokes, they’re all dying.
‘We are saving people with coronavirus but the rest of the population is dying from diseases we can control.’
The public knew lockdowns would ‘always break down’, he told the group.
Angela, 59, from Birmingham, said she went months without seeing her elderly parents earlier in the year and ‘I’m not doing that again’.
Paul, a London property developer, ridiculed the 10pm curfew, saying the virus was ‘just spread among crowds getting wasted in the streets.’
Steph, a charity worker, was equally robust, despite having had the virus herself.
She said Mr Cummings was ‘disgusting’ for breaking Covid rules, adding: ‘We have to get back to normality.’
Publicly, the Government is maintaining its tough stance on lockdowns, insisting the rules are vital to stop the virus spiralling out of control.
However, privately, the Government’s position is a different story: like the focus groups, it is rather more nuanced.
The Daily Mail understands that ministers are encouraged by signs that predictions of hundreds of thousands more infections and tens of thousands more deaths in a second wave may be an overestimate.
According to reliable sources, there are signs that the infection rate among university students is falling.
And there is evidence the virus has lost up to 90 per cent of its lethal potency owing to mass wearing of masks.
That, together with more effective drugs, has reduced the fatality rate in hospital intensive care units.
‘Let’s get back to normal!’: Thoughts and feelings of an exasperated public
Q: What do you think of Government’s coronavirus rules?
Alec, 61, consultant, London, Conservative
They are confusing, unenforceable and people won’t take any notice of them.
Brian, 68, retired, Liverpool, Conservative
One member of the focus group said that the government’s special adviser Dominic Cummings, pictured right, was ‘disgusting’ for having broken the rules
It’s killing more people with cancer. Coronavirus is 40th on the list (of causes of death). People with heart conditions, strokes are all dying. We are saving people with coronavirus but the rest are dying from diseases we can control.
Amira, (female) 30, school admin officer, London, Labour
They don’t (match) the statistics.
Paul, 48, property developer, Birmingham, Conservative
They are patronising and unjust.
Daniel, 24, student, London, Conservative
Confusing; people in government wouldn’t stick to them.
Q: Will rules work?
No. The virus has no limit on time, race, gender. [The authorities] think it will go away at ten o’clock when pubs shut, but it’s just spread among crowds getting wasted in the streets.
You can suppress it for a while but it’ll always break out again.
Steph, 38, charity worker, Liverpool, Labour
We (already) tried lockdown, we have to get back to normality, how is a second lockdown going to be any different?
Q: Will you follow new rules?
No. I’m very close to my family. I didn’t see them for six months in lockdown, I’m not doing it again.
We all followed the rules initially because we thought right, we’ve got to get rid of this virus. We’ve gone through all the pain of lockdown, now they want us to face another one. The consensus is they (the public) know it’s not going to work, it’s always going to break down.
Howard, 23, engineer, Liverpool
If you need to see your loved ones, see them. If you’re popping round for the sake of it – don’t.
Angela, 59, Birmingham, Labour
I wear a mask when I go out but I shall still see my family because my parents are elderly. I had a few months of not seeing them … and I’m not doing that again. Everything else I’m going to act normal because mentally I couldn’t go through it again.
I would break it (lockdown) to see my family – for my mental health.
Not really. If you need to see your loved ones, see them.
Q: What should MINISTERS do instead?
Get on with it and be sensible, don’t mix in big crowds. Get back to normal as much as we can.
There should be a lockdown with very harsh penalties… for a short time. Then we could remove the virus and live how we want to.
Q: Why has trust in the rules collapsed?
If the Queen won’t wear a mask, why should I bother?
Dominic Cummings’ (behaviour) was disgusting, Matt Hancock put his arm round fellow MPs in the Commons.
You have Cummings on a jolly, the woman (MP) who went from Scotland to London and back with the virus and isn’t being prosecuted. It’s a cop out. And they want to fine us!
The Mail said the average age of a Covid person dying is 82 years, the average life expectancy is 81 years, so who are we protecting? There’s good chance I would survive at 68.
Q: Would you have a Covid vaccine?
I don’t believe in vaccines, wouldn’t have one.
What happens if they bring one out that hasn’t been trialled, and in five years we’ve all developed side effects? We’ll all sue the Government because we were forced to have it.
I will take it because it will be a worldwide vaccine.
Focus groups were more reliable than polls during Brexit, writes JAMES JOHNSON who dispels the idea that we’re a nation of lockdown lovers
Take a look at the polls, which continue to show high levels of support for tighter restrictions, and you would be forgiven for thinking we are a nation of lockdown lovers.
But the polls obscure a hidden truth – because focus groups, moderated conversations with groups of voters, show the mood is very different from March and April.
Instead of skipping merrily into another lockdown, people are frustrated, fatigued, and more conscious of the economic impact of further restrictions than ever before.
In discussions I have led around the country, voters talk more and more about how they are taking a common-sense approach to restrictions. They speak openly of how they will still visit elderly relatives, and go about their lives, in a way they would not have in the first lockdown.
Only 10 per cent of public follow self-isolate orders
Only one in ten stay at home for two weeks after being told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, Sage documents revealed yesterday.
Of those who were told they had been in close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case, just 10.9 per cent isolated for the following 14 days.
The alarming figures undermine the premise of the Test and Trace system, which aims to prevent the spread of the virus.
The main reasons people gave for not properly quarantining were not developing symptoms, not thinking it was necessary to stay away from those outside the household, or popping to the shops for food.
The figures were revealed in documents by Sage – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
This is not mass disobedience – the public remain concerned about the virus and are likely to accept new restrictions with resignation rather than revolution. But they are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.
Nuanced conversations with voters have uncovered such hidden truths in the past. Take the 2015 election, when Labour and the Conservatives were level-pegging in the polls, but fears about the role Nicola Sturgeon could play in a government led by Ed Miliband came up again and again in focus groups.
Similarly, most opinion polls before the 2016 EU referendum pointed to a victory for Remain. Focus groups showed a much deeper alarm at uncontrolled EU immigration and support for Brexit. On both occasions, focus groups were more reliable.
What has caused this shift in the public mood on coronavirus restrictions? First, people speak about how fatigued they are by the measures, saying that though they see why they are needed, they are unsure they can face another six months of the same.
The impacts on mental health, and routine NHS care, come up more often.
There is also a growing frustration that those in charge do not follow the rules, yet expect us to. Dominic Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle comes up repeatedly.
And, finally, there is widespread confusion about the rules.
The tiered system has generated more questions than answers. Terms like ‘rule of six’ and ‘support bubble’ are used interchangeably.
The public still remain concerned about the virus, and want to put health first. But the picture of a nation merrily skipping into Lockdown 2.0 is misleading. The mood is very different from the one we saw in the spring.
James Johnson of JL Partners was a Downing Street polling adviser to Theresa May
Crackdown of the trolley police: Now LIDL covers its famous middle aisle as Tesco staff in Wales COVER UP kettles and bedding on shelves after ‘power mad’ First Minister Mark Drakeford bans sale of ‘non-essential’ items and English police patrol border
Supermarket staff in Wales yesterday covered up kettles and phone chargers on shelves as ‘power mad’ First Minister Mark Drakeford banned the sale of ‘non-essential’ items during the country’s coronavirus firebreak lockdown.
Tesco and Lidl workers became Wales’ first ‘trolley police’ as they were seen hiding shelves of ‘non-essential’ products behind plastic sheets to stop customers buying them ahead of the start of the restrictions, which came in last night.
Plastic barriers and stacks of drinks crates were also set up to block off certain aisles while other items were taped off by staff as part of efforts to follow the draconian new rules.
At other major supermarkets, Sainsbury’s said staff have been working ‘around the clock’ to put changes in place, while Waitrose said it was reviewing government guidance and Asda claimed it had been given ‘very little time’ to implement the new rules.
Four members of staff at a Tesco store in Pontypool could be seen inspecting the cover-up for a 20-minute trial run ahead of the latest restrictions coming into force, with witnesses admitting they’d ‘never seen anything like it’.
Mr Drakeford described stopping supermarkets from selling non-essential products during the firebreak lockdown as ‘a straightforward matter of fairness’.
Supermarket staff in Wales today covered up kettles and phone chargers on shelves as ‘power mad’ First Minister Mark Drakeford banned the sale of ‘non-essential’ items during the country’s coronavirus firebreak lockdown
Lidl closed off all their ‘non-essential’ aisles in Porthmadog, well before the 6pm deadline today with the ban set to last for the duration of the 17-day ‘fire break’ lockdown
First Minister Mark Drakeford (pictured today) said it will be ‘made clear’ to supermarkets that only certain parts of their business will be allowed to open in order to sell essentials
Christmas chaos as No10 says families CAN gather this year but minister warns it won’t be ‘normal’
The mixed messages came as politicians desperately try to get a grip on a surge in coronavirus cases – with lockdowns tightening in many areas.
There are tough restrictions on people meeting indoors across much of the UK, but asked whether families should abandon hope of meeting up, a No10 spokesman said: ‘The PM has been clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas.
‘As I say, we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.’
The comments contrasted with the stance taken by Treasury Chief Secretary Steve Barclay in a round of interviews this morning.
Wales’ Labour leader could not hide his frustration today as he was repeatedly questioned on the restrictions, which are now in force for 17 days. He said they were ‘fair’ and crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
He told a press conference in Cardiff that any suggestion that the ban, which was announced on Thursday, was based on his own politics was ‘nonsensical’.
He said: ‘We are requiring many hundreds of small businesses to close on the high street right across Wales.
‘We cannot do that and then allow supermarkets to sell goods that those people are unable to sell.
‘And we are looking to minimise the amount of time that people spend out of their homes during this two-week period.
‘This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.’
He said trying to find exceptions to the rules was ‘just the wrong’ approach and called on people in Wales to not use the firebreak to do things that they do not have to.
‘It is a straightforward matter of fairness – we are in this together here in Wales,’ he added.
It comes as it was confirmed that police checkpoints are being set up on a key section of the border with England , with Gloucestershire Constabulary able to tell drivers looking to head into Wales to turn around if officers ‘are not satisfied with their explanation’.
If they refuse, the police said it will tell forces in Wales so that they can issue a fine.
Mr Drakeford has long been at loggerheads with Boris Johnson as he has tried to impose travel restrictions in England for those living in towns and cities with a high number of cases.
Officers were also out in Cardiff city centre this evening as the new rules came into force at 6pm and dozens of business closed up for the next fortnight.
Elsewhere, Nicola Sturgeon today confirmed Scotland is set to enter a new five-level system of Covid-19 restrictions.
The new model will come into force on November 2, when current restrictions on the hospitality trade are due to expire. It includes five tiers of measures from level zero to four which will be applied in different parts of Scotland.
Supermarket customers in Wales today claimed the sale of duvets, bedding and electricals had been stopped by Tesco staff who covered the shelves in plastic.
Tesco customer Jamie Cole, 31, said the aisle containing kettles and phone chargers was also ‘completely closed off’ despite them being ‘needed’ as temperatures nationwide begin to drop.
Mr Cole said: ‘I was shocked, it’s quite bad. Bedding should be available for kids and mothers. We’re coming up to winter, it’s cold outside, I couldn’t believe it.
‘I don’t have kids of my own but my friend and my sister have kids, she’s quite shocked too. They rely on Tesco as it’s the only supermarket in our town.
‘This was today at 10.49am, the restrictions don’t come into effect until 6pm and all the other supermarkets are fine. The staff are only following orders, It’s happened so quickly. They only announced it at about 7pm last night.
‘I’m 30-odd and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. You abide by the rules then they do this, it’s quite intimidating. There was another aisle that was completely closed off too, that was the stationery aisle and electricals.
‘If you needed a kettle or phone charger, that aisle was completely closed off. I’ve done a bit of homework and there’s no list of essential items on the Wales Government website.
‘I guess it’s the supermarket that decides what items are essential.’
A spokesperson for Tesco confirmed to MailOnline: ‘Our colleagues across Wales will be working incredibly hard today so we can comply with the Welsh Government’s ban on selling ‘non-essential’ goods to our customers from 6pm this evening.’
It came after Mr Drakeford snapped today as he was roasted over his ban on the shops selling the items in his lockdown.
The Labour First Minister could not hide his frustration as he was repeatedly questioned on the restrictions, which came into force at 6pm for 17 days.
He insisted they were ‘fair’ and crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
But when he was challenged over whether it was ‘essential’ for parents to buy new school trousers if their children ripped them, Mr Drakeford moaned: ‘It is just the wrong way to approach this whole business.
‘We are back to the ”how do you we get round the rules” approach to coronavirus.’
Pallets of stock block access to non essential goods at the Sainsburys store in Crindau, Newport at the start of the firebreak lockdown
Crates of drinks were used to block off non-essential aisles at the Tesco store in Cardiff in order to follow the new rules
Non-essential aisles were blocked off with a plastic barrier in this Tesco Extra store on Western Avenue, Cardiff today
A barrier was set up at a Tesco superstore in Swansea today as supermarkets are told to stop selling non-essential goods
A barrier was set up at a Tesco superstore in Swansea today as supermarkets are told to stop selling non-essential goods
He added tetchily: ‘There is a bigger prize at stake here than whether you need to buy a candle or not.’
Mr Drakeford insisted that allowing supermarkets to keep selling clothes and other products while smaller retailers were shut would be unacceptable.
‘We’re all in this together here in Wales,’ he told a press conference in Cardiff.
‘This is not a period to be browsing around in supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.’
However, anger rose today as Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething made clear alcohol does count as a key item under the confusing new rules – but insisted hair dryers do not.
He also conceded that a ‘line by line’ list of what can be sold would be ‘unusable’, saying they were hoping retailers will have a ‘grown up understanding’.
There are fears it will mean a return to the scenes witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic when there were rows over the contents of people’s shopping trolleys.
Mr Drakeford said this afternoon that local restrictions had succeeded in stemming the spread of the virus, but were not ‘turning it back’.
He compared the progress in place like Torfaen favourably with areas in England like Oldham.
But he said the ‘short sharp shock’ of a lockdown was now essential.
‘We have to act urgently now because the virus is rising too fast,’ he said.
Many retailers will be forced to shut altogether during the ‘firebreak’ lockdown, but food shops and pharmacies can stay open.
During a bruising interview with Kay Burley on Sky News, Mr Gething said the Welsh government was producing ‘categories’ that are allowed to be sold.
‘A supermarket selling clothes isn’t essential… We are looking to have a grown up understanding with them about what they can do so they go ahead and do that.’
He added: ‘We don’t want to get into a line by line going through thousands of of product items. That would be unusable from their point of view and ours,’ he said.
Burley asked whether the situation meant alcohol is essential but a hair dryer is not.
‘Well look, food and drink are items that we had through the first period of the pandemic, they are available everywhere,’ Mr Gething replied.
When the presenter insisted, ‘Trust me, my hair dryer is essential’, Mr Gething responded: ‘No it isn’t, Kay.’
Burley said: ‘Course it is. Look at the state of your hair compared to mine.. I have to dry my hair, you can towel dry yours.’
But Mr Gething replied: ‘I don’t think that the biggest issue on people’s minds in Wales will be whether they can buy a hair dryer for the next two weeks.’