Government Risks Losing Public Trust Over Inconsistent Coronavirus Guidance10 Jun 2020
Since the global coronavirus outbreak reached the UK, there have been many questions on whether the government could have acted earlier to reduce the negative impacts of the crisis. Critics have questioned the late lockdown response, the limited supply of PPE and the disproportionate number of deaths among black and minority ethnic (BAME) people.
Amidst such criticism, the 50-page roadmap document published by the government in May on how to “beat the virus” and reopen the country for business was meant to offer some clarity for the future. However, with the government pushing to end the lockdown despite continued high infection rates and backtracking on some of its roadmap objectives, many experts, politicians and individuals are starting to doubt whether they can trust the guidance they receive.
The roadmap was intended to provide clarity for businesses and individuals
In May, the British government published a 50-page strategy document, also described as a roadmap, on how Britain would get used to the “new normal” and “beat the virus” in order to “reopen society”. The premise of loosening the lockdown and reopening society would hinge on protecting the NHS through a sustained fall of infection and death rates and a commitment to keeping the reproduction rate of the virus (“R Rate”) below 1. A new alert system was also implemented to guide the public on the current situation, with the present COVID Alert Rating at 4.
Currently, the UK’s overall R-rating is between 0.7 and 1, with some areas at 1 and even 1.01. Yet, despite these numbers and the fact that the COVID Alert Rating has not moved away from 4, the government has been looking to open some businesses and public areas, as well as houses of worship, by June 15, so long as social distancing can be observed. Businesses such as pubs, meanwhile, are expected to reopen by July. The rush to reopen businesses and public spaces even as infection levels remain high has elicited criticisms from experts, politicians and pundits who all warn that the rush to reopen the country could lead to a second wave.
The apparent inconsistency in guidance has also been at display when the government backtracked from its plans to allow children to return to school before summer, acknowledging that many students won’t return to their schools until fall.
Repeated failures to address problems have already left BAME people sceptical of the government
The growing contradictions within the government’s coronavirus response have been long clear to the groups that have been most impacted by the outbreak. Many NHS workers, especially those of BAME backgrounds, have frequently voiced concerns that they would contract the virus. Although the government has attempted to allay these fears by redeploying BAME staff and announcing that the PPE shortages have been mostly resolved, many doctors and nurses warned that the situation is nowhere close to ideal.
The response to the overall crisis of BAME people dying in disproportionately-higher numbers has been similarly inconsistent and disappointing. After acknowledging that BAME people were dying in higher rates, Public Health England announced that it would hold an inquiry onto the matter. However, the inquiry itself was mired in controversy. First, the involvement of former Labour MP, Trevor Phillips, caused furore among British Muslims who feared that the appointment of someone who is accused of a history of Islamophobia could damage the findings relating to the many Muslims who died from the virus. It was later found that neither Phillips, nor black health expert, Professor Kevin Fenton, who was listed as leading the inquiry, had significant involvement. It was further revealed that the report omitted some 1,000 accounts relating to systemic racism in the NHS, eroding further trust among BAME community leaders.
Many businesses and institutions are now looking past government advice
The detriment of these contradictions to the government’s credibility is apparent. It is expected that the UK’s economy will be among the worst sufferers of coronavirus-related economic downturn, explaining the government’s motivation to reopen. However, with many shoppers already expected to wait out until after the end of the lockdown to return, a fear of a second spike and a lack of trust in the government could keep shoppers off businesses even longer.
The confusion is also apparent among UK’s Muslims. Despite a government pledge to reopen places of worship by June 15, senior Muslim leaders have called on mosques to remain shut until they can hold congregational prayers. Further calls for the government to issue more detailed guidance have gone unanswered.
This has left many mosques stuck between advice from the government and religious authorities scrambling for a solution.
Without clearer guidance and a more consistent approach, public trust in the government over its coronavirus response is set to erode even more.