By Cerys Jones | Comment Editor
The government has become subject to scrutiny regarding their unclear instructions and contradicting attempts to halt the surge in COVID-19 infections. Parliament’s emphasis on the recovery of the British economy created national uncertainty regarding social distancing requirements, thus risking the emergence of a second peak and national lockdown.
Confirmed coronavirus cases have risen from 12.5 infections per 100,000 people to 19.7 per 100,000 across the UK within the last week, resulting in the enforcement of new government requirements and restrictions. The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson stated that “we must act” to avoid a second lockdown.
Updated government requirements
The introduction of the “rule of six” restricts social gatherings to a maximum of six people, enforced by the police who can issue fines or make arrests if requirements are not adhered to.
Venues such as restaurants and pubs will be legally required to collect the contact details of each customer which are to be kept for 21 days, and provide the data to the NHS Test and Trace service. Failure to comply will result in fines of £1,000.
“COVID-secure marshals” will be introduced to monitor social distancing in town and city centers.
The passenger locator form filled out by travellers on arrival in the UK will be simplified, and Border Force will increase enforcement.
The Metropolitan Police Federation’s criticism
The Metropolitan Police Federation (MPF), who represents the police force in London, has criticised the government’s communication to the public throughout the pandemic period. The association calls for “clear and unambiguous laws” encompassing what people “can and can’t do”.
This statement was issued just hours after the daily Downing Street coronavirus news briefing on defeating the virus, where Britain’s home secretary, Patel has claimed that the government’s message “has been clear and consistent from day one”.
Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, stated:
“Contrary to the view we heard today from Downing Street, the Metropolitan Police Federation does believe mixed messages are coming out from the government around the lockdown for the public. This makes our already difficult job of policing this unprecedented crisis harder”.
Mixed messages causing national confusion
The restriction of public freedom through the introduction of more assertive infection control measures contradicts the government’s previous actions in an attempt to fuel the economy. The Eat Out to Help Out economic recovery measure which came to an end last month was a scheme that encouraged social gatherings. This scheme operates in a contradictory fashion to the government’s guidelines found on the official GOV.UK website, which states that we must “avoid social interaction with anyone outside the group you are with, even if you see other people you know”. This poses the question of whether economic certainty is worth more than our lives and well-being in the eyes of the government?
National confusion occurs when society is encouraged to return to normality through attending business venues which fuel the hospitality sector, yet we are told to “avoid crowded areas with lots of people; and touching things that other people have touched”, factors which are difficult to control and avoid upon entering these venues.
The dissemination of the slogan “don’t kill granny’ by Preston’s city council has created a controversial dialogue nation-wide. The expression is directed at the youth population who are continuously demonised by the government, media, and society for the spread of COVID-19.
The criticism regarding the behaviour of youth contrasts with the government’s attempt to boost the economy. Young people are encouraged to eat out to help out, to return to pubs and social venues, but are then criticised for doing so. The youth of society are being utilised as a scapegoat for the government to avoid taking responsibility, and accountability for their unclear instructions, and mistakes made during the process of battling the pandemic.
Parliament’s decision for children to return to school despite the increasingly high risk remains contradictory within society. The decision does not comply with the government’s implementation of ‘the rule of 6’ announced on September 14. Classrooms and public transport utilised to transport the children are overcrowded, thus causing difficulty when adhering to social distancing requirements.
Despite the consideration of children’s education, university students are yet to be considered, as they continue their education online. The University and College London accuse the government of “encouraging a public health crisis” as an expected one million students return to higher education. Despite the limited contact hours that students will receive, and learning from their homes, the youth population is still considered the “generators of a second wave”, though placing 30 young children in a classroom together with limited space for social distancing is considered ‘safe’.
The exemption of shooting parties from the ‘rule of six’
The exemption of shooting parties from the rule of six has fueled public debate, as ministers have been accused of making coronavirus exceptions “for their mates”. Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard stated that:
“It is clear there’s one rule for the Cabinet and their mates and another for the rest of us”.
The acceptance of Grouse Shooting and hunting follows confirmation that the latest health protection regulations permit groups of up to 30 people to take part in any “sports gathering”.
The labour party states that the exemption “shows where the government’s priorities really lie”.
The government made a decision to allow shooting parties as an organised sport, but families are prevented from seeing their loved ones consequent to the rule of six. This has raised issues of classism which originates from the country’s governance, which therefore impacts society.
Television personality and mental health advocate, Denise Welch, criticised the government and media’s communication strategy, whilst she accused them of ‘fear-mongering’ during the coronavirus pandemic. During her interview with Ruth and Eamonn Holmes, she explained why we should look to scientific data for an accurate representation of the current climate regarding the virus.
Whilst appearing on the British daytime television programme, This Morning, Welch passionately stated that she is “shocked and appalled” by how the government and media have represented coronavirus to the population.
Welch called for changes to be issued in the way that news and information regarding the pandemic are reported to the public. She argued that it has created an environment for fear and anxiety, particularly for those living with mental health issues, who have been neglected by the government, and suffered severely during the coronavirus crisis.
The government’s confusing and contradicting communication strategy, coinciding with the dissemination of ‘mixed messages’ has caused national confusion during a period of social and economic uncertainty. Society’s behaviour mirrors the government’s poor communication methods and this is a reflection of the unclear instructions provided by the government. Clear clarification and indication are imperative during such a new experience. The confusion created by the higher power results in the decrease of trust in the government.