How Britain Lost the Lockdown Battle
March 23 marks the anniversary of Britain’s lockdown. It’s not that memorable a milestone, admittedly, as it’s hardly the only country in that position. But the U.K. has one big difference from most countries, not least the United States: We’re still in a strict lockdown.
This often goes underappreciated on the American side of the pond. Many point to indoor dining bans and the like in the U.S. as evidence that lockdowns endure on both sides of the Atlantic. But as irritating as those laws might be, they’re not the same as the U.K. lockdown.
Since the beginning of January, the U.K. has had the real deal (just as we did for all of last spring and winter): an indefinite stay-at-home order coupled with on-the-spot fines for anyone going outdoors without good reason or visiting a family member. Bars, gyms, churches, and “non-essential” retailers (the majority of which were already shut thanks to the “local” lockdowns that engulfed much of England last winter) have all been closed for months.
Eleven weeks in and we’ve seen only the most minor relaxations. Since March 8, it’s been permitted for two people to meet outside for a coffee—provided it’s in a public space. From March 29, this limit will be extended to six people, and to private gardens. Meeting indoors will remain illegal until the middle of May.
The enduring lockdown is quite surprising. Goodness knows that if you’d said this time last year the U.K. would still be in lockdown—and all under “freedom-loving” Prime Minister Boris Johnson—you’d have been laughed out of town. That’s before you factor in the vaccines, of which some 50 percent of U.K. adults (and virtually all seniors) have now received at least one dose.
Yet here we are: 12 months into restrictions and our once-cherished approach to liberty has been totally inverted. Lockdown, once a temporary aberration, has instead become the default. The burden of proof is placed on those arguing for freedom, rather than those wanting to remain in lockdown.
What went wrong? One ongoing, and unexpected, factor has been the astounding popularity of lockdowns. Ever since spring 2020, opinion polling has shown previously unthinkable majorities in favor of restrictions. Last month, for example, 72 percent of those asked backed the idea of a 10-day hotel quarantine for all international arrivals. Meanwhile, 59
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