The 10:00pm Curfew: Yet another addition to our government’s incoherent approach to COVID-19

Herd immunity. Lockdown. Eat Out to Help Out. Super Saturday. Rule of Six. Now a 10pm curfew, just one in a long list of attempts by Boris Johnson (or Churchill-incarnate as he seems to go by these days) to manage the catastrophic social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Of course, no leader has handled this pandemic perfectly, and it would not be fair to expect it. Yet in a crisis such as this, what we can insist on from our leaders (and indeed what we need more than anything) is a clear and focused message that stipulates a plan of action for the coming months. And Boris Johnson has not delivered. Regrettably, his government’s actions have spread fear, anger and uncertainty better than a pandemic ever could.

Over the past six months, the British government has seemingly fluctuated between a wish to preserve Britain’s economy and the need to protect the British people from the worst health and social crisis in one hundred years. As we approached July this year, despite himself being a survivor of COVID-19, Johnson allowed his government to become carried away by the coming summer and the general mood of a public itching to be out of lockdown, promising a normalcy that was not his to give. We were instructed to return to work, reminded of our patriotic duty to go to the pub, and told to ‘eat out to help out’, even being confronted by the sight of Rishi Sunak ‘assisting’ the hospitality sector in a brief stint as a waiter (maintaining the government’s general confusion by nearly serving chicken to a vegan customer). Of course, now the inevitable spike in infections has happened, and Johnson is expecting to perform yet another dramatic U-turn in policy with no social repercussions, not realising that the government’s inability to send a clear message has resulted in distrust from the population and very little desire to follow the latest restrictions. The fact that the government has also proved unwilling to accept accountability for the mistakes they have made does not help matters; in one breath, they plead with the public to follow the new rules for the good of the community, while in the next they lay blame for rising case numbers at the wayward feet of young people. Admitting that the advice has been mixed at best and asking for unity as opposed to pointing the finger is apparently too much to ask. And indeed, by turning around and placing the blame for rising case numbers on young people, the government has alienated them at a time when public health needs them to be sensible and follow the rules most. 

Will this latest national measure, a 10pm curfew, be effective? Possibly. In terms of the curfew’s effect on general behaviour, it could lead to the consumption of less alcohol, allowing people to remain more vigilant about the importance of other social guidelines. Furthermore, Dr Julian Tang of the University of Leicester notes that the risk of transmission would be higher during prolonged interactions as opposed to shorter ones; logically, a curfew should therefore work to lessen the number of cases. Yet this policy’s effectiveness also depends on where people go and what they do after bars and restaurants are shut; students are hardly going to want to be sensible and safely socially-distanced at home by 10:00pm when they have just been named as the main culprits in a second wave of COVID-19. While it still remains to be seen with certainty what the curfew’s impact on coronavirus will be, a government that has proved unable to offer a decisive message yet skilled at treating the public as the problem, should not hold its breath for widespread acceptance of the latest restrictions.

Image: British Government via Flickr