COVID-19 rules: what is the government telling us to do? Britons aren’t sure

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
May 20, 2021, 9:10 AM UTC

Britons say the government’s coronavirus guidance is clear, but have different opinions on whether hugging and travelling to a green list destination is encouraged

Don’t go to work. Go to work. Go outside. Don’t go outside. It’s not the first time the government’s COVID-19 guidance has attracted criticism for its muddled messaging. Critics are now attacking Boris Johnson for a reopening approach marked by “confusion”, which includes allowing travel but ministers saying you shouldn’t do it, and legalising hugging but advising “cautious cuddling”.

But are the Britons as confused as commentators insist? Not according to the public themselves. Two thirds of people say the government’s guidance for which activities you should and shouldn’t do is very (19%) or fairly (48%) clear. Around three in ten feel less certain, however, and say it’s either not very (19%) or not at all clear (9%). 

Younger people are more likely to say the guidance lacks clarity, with over a third of 18-to 24-year-olds finding it not very (23%) or not at all (13%) clear. In contrast, only one in six people aged 65+ are of the same opinion, including one in twenty (5%) saying it’s not clear at all. 

Which activities is the government telling us to do or avoid? People disagree

The guidance that seems to be causing the most confusion is around travel to countries which the government lists as green in their traffic light system, meaning you’re allowed to go without quarantining upon returning.

A third of Britons (33%) say the government is encouraging the public to go on holiday to these destinations, while around three in ten (28%) say it’s discouraged. Another 30% say it’s neither.

Five million people have already booked trips to European destinations this summer, despite one minister saying that all foreign breaks are ‘dangerous’. And while several ministers have said holidays to amber destinations – which require you to isolate at home when returning – are okay, Boris Johnson has overruled them.

But despite the amber ambiguity, three in five Britons (60%) say this type of travel is discouraged, while only 12% believe it’s encouraged. Around one in five people (18%) say it’s neither.

The advice around hugging also seems to be creating some confusion, with two in five people (41%) saying the public is being told to hug, while three in ten (30%) believe we’re advised to not hug.

And while the government’s working from home advice is still in place, two fifths of Britons (38%) say workers are encouraged to go into offices, while around a quarter believe the opposite (27%).

While sitting inside at pubs and restaurants is allowed again as of this week, several Sage scientists have warned against it if not vaccinated. Half of Britons (48%) feel encouraged to sit inside, while only 17% feel dissuaded. Meanwhile, two thirds say they feel encouraged to get socialise outside in hospitality venues.

See the full results here