How do people in the UK feel about easing the lockdown? Not ready yet?

Alex Freeman
Published in
4 min readMay 9, 2020


This week, the media story in the UK has been all about the potential to ease lockdown restrictions, with speculation about what the prime minister’s address on 10th May might contain.

Co-incidentally, our Centre published a first look into data we’ve been collecting on people’s perception of the risk of the coronavirus around the world. This showed that the UK public’s perception of the risk of coronavirus was higher than other countries’ at the time of the survey (late March), and of course, media coverage has picked up on this ‘high level of concern’ in the UK and speculated about what it might mean for public opinions and behaviour if restrictions are eased.

Actually, though, we have been collecting data every few weeks in the UK and our survey that ran yesterday (8th May) would provide much more relevant data on the public sentiment than that in late March just before lockdown even started.

We haven’t had a chance to analyse this data yet, so we can’t yet put together a risk perception index in the same way as we did for the paper (which combines people’s estimates of the likelihood of catching the virus themselves, the severity of its effects, the prevalence of it in the country and their overall worry about it), but I thought this raw data might be of interest.

These data are each from 700–1150 people, representative of the UK in age, gender and ethnicity but not in socioeconomics and politics. Data was collected on 19th March (just before lockdown measures were brought in), 9–11th April (at the end of the first 3-week lockdown period) and 7–8th May (as restriction easing is being discussed). I’m mainly eyeballing this data at the moment rather that looking statistically.

Firstly, agreement with continuation of the current lockdown is still pretty high (over 50% agree ‘a great deal’), although a minority are beginning to want to see easing of restrictions compared with 3 weeks ago:

Mean support in April=6.3 (st dev 1.18), in May=5.9 (stdev 1.60) which is a significant drop (according to both an ANOVA and a Kruskal Wallis test for which I must thank Dr Sarah Dryhurst!)

We looked at whether people who have been furloughed had a different opinion on the lockdown from those still working, and don’t see a difference.

The responses to a question about the government’s plans for the next few weeks echoes this feeling of wanting restrictions to continue — and there seems to be an increasing amount of uncertainty about what those plans might be (the ‘dont’ know’ option was specifically phrased as ‘I don’t know what the planned response is’):

Although the responses to a question about the past few weeks again seems to show some now feel restrictions are a little too hard:

What is an interesting pattern, seen over the responses to a lot of the other questions, though, is that the middle week of our data collection — in the first few weeks of lockdown - we seem to see a peak in certain feelings: prosociality:

Feelings of understanding and of the effectiveness of the official strategy:

Mean in March=4.7 (st dev 1.6); in April=5.3 (st dev 1.41); in May=5.0 (st dev 1.5) which is a significant increase in understanding between March and April and then a significant drop again in May (thank you again Dr Sarah Dryhurst for both an ANOVA and another Kruskal Wallis test)
Mean in March=3.9 (st dev 1.75); in April=4.2 (st dev 1.57); in May=3.9 (st dev 1.70) which is a significant increase between March and April and then a significant drop again in May, down to March levels. (thank you again Dr Sarah Dryhurst for both an ANOVA and another Kruskal Wallis test)

And, probably, worry about the virus:

Mean worry in March=5.8 (stdev 1.36); in April=6.0 (stdev 1.2); in May=5.72 (stdev 1.4) — significantly higher in April than in March or May (thanks again to Dr Sarah Dryhurst for the tests)

As a Centre that is interested in the communication of risk and evidence we’re going to be looking into these potential patterns further over the coming weeks. We want to understand how different communications affect people’s perception of the risks, their worry about it, the actions they take — and how this differs between people.

It’s a complex picture, but important for us to unpick as best we can. Our findings from other countries at different points in the pandemic and where people are subject to different messaging about the virus will help us further.

In the meantime, we hope that our data can be of use. We make it all available as quickly as we can in an Open Data repository:



Alex Freeman

Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge