23/10/2020 00:01 BST

Only Half Of England Understands The Coronavirus Lockdown Rules

Police minister Kit Malthouse and Boris Johnson are among those who have publicly mixed up the rules – and they created them.

Nearly half of the public in England do not “fully understand” the current coronavirus lockdown rules, a study suggests.

Researchers found that around half of adults (51%) in the country said they understand the current Covid-19 restrictions. Only 13% of the respondents said they “fully understand” them.

And the people making the rules don’t seem to know them either. Numerous government figures have been caught publicly slipping up on the rules, including Boris Johnson, who stumbled over his explanation of the ban on households mixing last month as new restrictions were imposed on the north-east.

On Thursday minister for crime and policing Kit Malthouse denied the tier 3 lockdown restrictions were confusing... and then promptly mixed them up.

On the same day, the Treasury was forced to deny reports that chancellor Rishi Sunak had flouted lockdown rules by holding a meeting at a Waterloo pizza chain to discuss his latest business support package

Sunak was pictured in a branch of Franca Manca with communities secretary Robert Jenrick and members of the UK hospitality sector, in apparent contravention of tier 2 rules which forbid household mixing indoors. 

The Treasury said this was not the case because it was “not a functioning restaurant at the time.” 

A spokesperson for the prime minister later clarified: “There is an exemption for work meetings to take place in hospitality settings. Our intention when providing that exemption had been to provide the opportunity for freelancers or for the self-employed who didn’t have an office space to work in, to use hospitality if necessary.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak with housing secretary Robert Jenrick, hosting a roundtable for business representatives at Franco Mana in Waterloo, London

The ongoing University College London (UCL) Covid-19 Social Study found the latest data was an improvement on the 45% who felt they understood the rules in England in July. Those responses came after lockdown restrictions were firstly significantly eased on July 4.

But it was a significant drop from the initial lockdown period when 90% of respondents said they understood what was and was not permitted.

Lead author Dr Daisy Fancourt, associate professor at UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said the findings were “especially worrying” at a time when case numbers were climbing.

“Levels of understanding around what is and isn’t allowed under current lockdown restrictions have dropped markedly since nationwide ‘strict lockdown’ has ended,” she said.

“This issue may well also be exacerbated by the newly introduced system of tiers in England and the differing policies of the devolved nations.

Danny Lawson - PA Images via Getty Images
A woman wearing a face mask in Sheffield city centre, as South Yorkshire becomes the latest region to be placed into tier 3 coronavirus restrictions, which will come into effect on Saturday

“As well as this potentially leading to people breaking rules they don’t fully understand, confusing messages or unclear communication could result in people disengaging from trying to keep abreast of restrictions, which could well lead to lower compliance in the long term.

“These developments are especially worrying at a time when the number of cases continues to climb. So it is vital that the government improves communication of lockdown restrictions and ensures they are as simple to understand and follow as possible.”

The study of more than 70,000 people also found that understanding of the rules was lower in England than in both Wales and Scotland.

It said that in Wales 15% “fully understand” and 62% understand “the majority” of the rules. In Scotland 15% “fully understand” and 66% understand “the majority”.

The levels of control people feel around aspects of their lives have also improved in some areas since July, it added.

Around three fifths of respondents (60%) felt in control of future plans compared with half in July. Meanwhile 70% now felt in control of their employment situation – up from 60% in July.

Despite this the study found people were still feeling out of control of their mental health. Half of respondents (50%) reported they do not feel at all in control or only feel a little in control of their mental health.

There was also a lack of improvement in people’s sense of financial control with two in five respondents (39%) not feeling properly in control financially, it added.

The project was launched the week before lockdown started. It is the UK’s largest study into how adults are feeling about the lockdown, government advice and overall wellbeing and mental health, following more than 70,000 participants over the last 30 weeks.