Londoners aren’t breaking coronavirus rules en masse. They’re terrified

Londoners are just as scared, if not more scared, of the virus than during the first wave, our exclusive Redfield & Wilton polling reveals.

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How well are Londoners adhering to lockdown rules? After a week dubbed “compliance week” by some in government, with stern warnings against bending coronavirus regulations from senior politicians and the promise of a tougher crackdown on rule-breakers from Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan police, you might have thought that adherence to coronavirus regulations was flagging in the capital. 

But our exclusive polling of voters in London, conducted by Redfield & Wilton, paints a very different picture: of Londoners complying with lockdown rules, and in many cases more terrified of coronavirus than during the first lockdown in March. 

Sixty per cent of Londoners would not feel safe attending hospital for reasons unrelated to coronavirus at the moment, our polling found, as the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, declared a “major incident” in London because of the rapid spread of Covid cases and the risk of the capital’s hospitals being overwhelmed. A majority would, however, still attend hospital if they needed to, despite these concerns over safety.   

A majority (56 per cent) of Londoners are actively scared of catching coronavirus, with 41 per cent of those polled more scared now than they were in March and April when the pandemic began, and a further 41 per cent just as scared as they were during the first lockdown. This comes amid reports on 8 January that one in 30 Londoners had the virus, rising to as high as one in 20 in some parts of the city.

As for compliance, 75 per cent of Londoners polled have fully complied with lockdown rules, while 25 per cent have “mostly” followed the rules. A majority of Londoners hadn’t seen a single friend or family from another household in the week before they were polled. 

London has been at the centre of the outbreak of the new variant of coronavirus, and was placed under Tier 4 restrictions – in effect a lockdown  along with large parts of south-east England, on 20 December, cancelling the planned Christmas easing for everyone in those areas. There followed pictures and footage of a “mass exodus” from the capital as Londoners were filmed and pictured boarding trains out of the city in huge numbers before the new restrictions came in, despite the explicit message not to do so. But our polling indicates that this was a visible minority, as 74 per cent of Londoners polled did not mix with another household over Christmas.

The polling of the voters in the capital points to a wider truth in our public debate about lockdown compliance: compliance with the rules has been imperfect, but strong, throughout this crisis. We were having a debate about rule-breaking last week with no evidence that any of the behavioural changes we were observing (for example, mobility data indicating more movement than during the first lockdown) was the product of rule-breaking, as opposed to compliant behaviour under less stringent guidelines. 

Meanwhile, as cases rose and shocking scenes from inside hospitals flashed across our television screens, Londoners were sticking to the rules and were just as scared, if not more scared, than ever.  

*Redfield & Wilton polled a representative sample of 1,500 Londoners


Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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