Richard North, 03/05/2020  

Despite mutterings from the Westminster élites, who are taking serious flak from their corporate chums about the drain on their cash balances, it seems the nation is not that keen on lifting the lockdown, preferring the relative safety of isolation to the blandishments of unfettered capitalism and the gig economy.

That would appear the inference from the Opinium poll published by today's Observer. This follows on from a Telegraph survey last week. Then, of 2,082 people surveyed, 75 percent disagreed that the government should move more quickly to lift the current restrictions so that the economy "can fire up again". Only 16 percent wanted the government to speed up its plans.

If one is to go by the latest death figures, now standing at 28,131, the sentiment is understandable, although I suspect the tolerance of the lockdown reflects the fact that the restrictions are relatively light and, outside the highly visible spots, poorly enforced.

People can still leave their homes for a variety of reasons and many people are still at work, some enjoying the opportunity of working at home. For those who can afford them, Amazon deliveries are still available and Netflix is doing a roaring trade.

Oddly enough, I was talking the other day to an online supplier, who specialises in the sale of aftermarket parts for model kits. He and his fellow traders in the business, he said, have never had it so good. For a huge tranche of people, therefore, lockdown is presenting undreamed of opportunities to undertake challenging leisure projects.

This might explain why there are still [apparently] high levels of adherence, and how positive relations between people are. When some pundits observe that "support in the community has been far higher than expected", it sounds almost as if they are complaining.

Yet, from some accounts, not a few Britons are enjoying the lockdown. Many of those on furlough, being paid 80 percent of their monthly earnings for no work at all, are finding that life is really not so bad. With no daily travel and all the other attendant costs of going to work, the relatively frugal "lockdown" lifestyle is actually a money-saver. Some people, for the first time in a while, are putting money in the bank and paying off debt.

Boozy street parties now seem to be quite common in my neck of the woods, as neighbours make up for the pub closures with their own impromptu gatherings. Gardens have never been so trim and house maintenance suddenly seems to have become fashionable. Most of the bitching seems to be coming from the luvvies, with the media largely having lost its way.

We even have one of these instant "experts" crawling out of the woodwork to tell us that the isolation from the lockdown is "as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day", as they struggle to find more and more inventive ways of telling us how badly off we are.

Of course, that so many people are adapting does not in any way represent the whole picture. But it does serve to indicate that there are winners and losers in the epidemic. And as long as the "fear factor" – if that is what it is – prevails, then there will probably be majority support for keeping restrictions in place, for as long as the money lasts.

Thus we see that something like 67 percent of respondents to the Opinium survey are against reopening schools. Only nine percent, we are told, believe it would be correct to consider reopening pubs. Some 81 percent are against reopening. As to mass gatherings at sports events or concerts, only seven percent support resumption, with 84 percent against.

It is figures such as these which seem to point to a divide between the real world, and the foetid Westminster bubble, from where most of the pressure to lift the lockdown seems to originate. And this, it seems, is presenting Johnson with something of a problem, as he tries to reconcile opposing pressures.

A general view that the government's handling of the epidemic has not exactly been stellar possibly reinforces the broader public view that lifting the lockdown might be premature. Johnson and his cronies, therefore, will have their work cut out to demonstrate that they have a grip of the epidemic – especially when it is painfully evident that they do not.

At a political level, therefore, this is turning into one of those grand soap operas so beloved of the media, where they can play tedious games of "hawks and doves" speculating on which factions are "pro-" and "anti-" lockdown. Meanwhile, the rest of the country hunkers down to enjoy a sort of extended Christmas break, only with better weather.

Doubtless, though, there are serious problems over the horizon but, just now, we seem to be in a strange never-never land, where time is on hold and nothing seems quite real.

Needless to say, this cannot last. Those on the front line of the battle against the coronavirus are, we are told, beginning to tire, and there are concerns for their mental health. People with cancers and other life-threatening health conditions desperately need attention, and there are all sorts of activities that can't stay on hold forever.

There are now those, however, who are making comparisons between this pandemic and previous flu pandemics. Obviously getting short of things to write about, there is a tendency to contrast the differences in the way things were handled.

In the 1968-69 flu pandemic, therefore we are told that "stoic Britons" battled a "similar health crisis" without any lockdown. Still such pundits don't seem to understand how different the respective scenarios are.

The '68 pandemic had followed on from the 1957 pandemic – which had been resolved by the timely production of a vaccine. The same was to apply a decade later, where the impact of the illness was thought to have been reduced by cross-over immunity from the previous pandemic.

Here we have a disease which is actually far more serious than influenza – for many of those whom it affects – for which there is no established treatment and no prospect of a vaccine in the near future. Earlier predictions of 750,000 deaths are still valid - and could still happen. This pandemic is still very far from over.

But that doesn't gainsay the argument that the lockdown is causing very serious problems and that the economic downturn that it has triggered has significant health implications. Just to remind us, Peter Hitchens is still beating his drum, asserting that the coronavirus is not as dangerous as claimed. "Other comparable epidemics have taken place with far less fuss, and we have survived them", he writes.

However, he is also asking himself why he bothers, as people seem to be taking little notice of him. What he doesn't seem to understand is that, people are aware of the longer-term effects, but they are more concerned about the immediate threat.

To an extent, he is aware of the public response, accusing Johnson of having "spread fear far and wide". More than half the population, Hitchens asserts, have been literally scared silly.

"You meet them on pathways and pavements", he writes, "flinching with real alarm at the approach of another human being as if bubonic plague were abroad. They genuinely fear to go back to normal life".

It is here that there seems to be the mismatch. If people like Hitchens want to see change (as indeed we all do), he would be better off devoting his energies to pointing out where government policy is failing, and leaving us all at risk. Only when the public is reassured that the government has control of this disease, I suspect, will sentiment turn in favour of lifting the lockdown.

Fear, whether rational or not, is still fear. But we are not in a situation where there is nothing to fear but fear itself. When we have a deadly virus on the rampage, an incompetent government and a braggart at the helm, being afraid is entirely a rational response.

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