Oct 16, 2020 - World

Coronavirus pandemic's second wave strikes a divided U.K.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been caught between two prerogatives throughout the pandemic — his sober commitment to "follow the science" and his instinctive opposition to heavy-handed restrictions.

Why it matters: He now faces pressure from the opposition Labour Party to agree to a two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown, which the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies believes would reduce deaths before the end of the year by 29%–49%. But he's also under pressure from many in his Conservative Party to rule out any such measures.

Driving the news: Johnson's government is imposing new tiered restrictions in England, with Liverpool first to enter a local lockdown and London now facing "tier two" restrictions, which include a ban on indoor gatherings involving multiple households.

  • The opposition is fierce. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has vowed to "stand firm" against plans to shift his city to "tier three" — which would see pubs closed and travel restricted — unless the government also provides economic support.
  • Amid a response seen by many as muddled, Johnson's approval rating has fallen from April's high of 66% down to 35%.

Other parts of the U.K. are heading in their own directions.

  • Northern Ireland is closing schools for two weeks and shuttering all bars and restaurants for at least a month.
  • Wales is weighing a "circuit breaker" lockdown and has announced an unprecedented ban on travel from hot spots elsewhere in the U.K. despite vocal opposition from the government in Westminster.
  • Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has consistently been out ahead of Johnson in announcing new restrictions. Frustration with Johnson's pandemic performance has contributed to a swell in support for Scottish independence — now at a record-high 58%, according to Ipsos.

The bottom line: The U.K. was remarkably united throughout the first wave. That's not the case heading into the second.

Go deeper: Special report — Europe's monster second wave

Go deeper