Over half of Britons say government was too slow on virus: poll


LONDON (Reuters) – More than a half of Britons think Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government was too slow to order a lockdown to counter the spread of coronavirus, according an opinion poll published on Thursday.

The Ipsos MORI poll, carried out online between March 27 and 30, showed 56% of respondents believed the government’s enforcement of social distancing measures was too late, compared with just 4% who felt it was too soon.

Johnson ordered bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses to close on March 20, after other European governments took similar measures, plunging their economies into a likely deep recession.

Figures published on Thursday showed the number of people with coronavirus who have died in Britain rose by 24% to a total 2,921, fewer than in Italy, Spain and France but more than in Germany.

Johnson is also facing criticism about a slow roll-out of testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

The Ipsos MORI poll showed 79% of respondents said they were avoiding leaving their homes, up from 50% before the government’s lockdown. Ipsos MORI said it interviewed 1,072 British adults aged 18-75.

A separate poll on Thursday gave a more upbeat picture of public opinion about Johnson’s government.

The government had a net positive approval ratings for the first time in almost a decade with 52% of Britons approving of its record compared to 26% who disapproved, polling firm YouGov said.

In times of crisis, the public often believes national unity is important and opposition parties and the media are typically less critical, YouGov said.

However, such rallies are often fragile – support for former prime minister Gordon Brown at the start of the global financial crisis evaporated within a year, YouGov noted.

“We are potentially already starting to see that happen, with tougher questions being asked about why the government is not doing more to increase coronavirus testing capacity,” it added.

“Our latest polling shows that two-thirds (67%) think the government has handled this badly, compared to just a quarter (25%) who think they have handled it well.”

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Michael Holden and Stephen Addison