Coronavirus lockdown: Eight ways the lockdown has changed the UK

Image copyright
PA Media

Image caption

Visits to parks and beaches have risen since lockdown rules started to be eased

Life in the UK has been transformed since restrictions were brought in to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The restrictions, which have affected all aspects of society, will be relaxed further in most of England from Saturday, with pubs allowed to reopen and people allowed to meet indoors, while in Scotland the five-mile travel limit is set to be lifted from Friday.

But how has life changed over the past three months?

1) Visits to parks and beaches are up

In the week after the lockdown was announced, the number of people driving fell to a third of its pre-pandemic level. At the start of June it was back up to about two-thirds. The number of people on public transport fell even further, with rail use down to just 7% at the start of June, according to Department for Transport figures.

Mobile phone data analysed by Google shows that people largely did as they were told. Visits to parks, beaches and outdoor spaces plummeted almost immediately as the country was told to only go outside for exercise once a day. Visits to public transport stations and workplaces are about half of normal levels.

In some areas, such as Hartlepool, Bracknell Forest and Darlington in England – as well as Lisburn in Northern Ireland and East Renfrewshire in Scotland – the data suggested visits to parks and recreational spaces dropped by more than half compared with the five-week period in January and early February, which Google used to calculate its baseline.

Across the country, that rose significantly once the first relaxation of lockdown was announced in May and people were allowed to exercise outside more than once per day, peaking during the late May bank holiday weekend.

In mid-June, the rise in visits was biggest in places like Southend, Brighton and Wokingham.

2) The UK is ‘past the peak’ of the disease

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK is “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak, but has stressed the country must not “risk a second spike”.

By tracking hospital deaths, which are a sign of transmission in the general population, there is strong evidence that the UK hit the peak on 8 April.

The number of deaths from all causes registered in a single week has fallen below the five-year average for the first time since mid-March, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published on Tuesday.

Mr Johnson says the UK must keep the R rate – the number of people to which one infected person will pass the virus – below one in order to avoid a second peak

3) Doctors did more phone appointments than face-to-face

The way people are using the health service is changing.

Only about 14% of doctor’s appointments were carried out over phone or video link in the year to February 2020.

But that has all changed, with the number of phone appointments slightly outstripping face-to-face consultations in May as the public became conscious of the need for social distancing.

The Royal College of GPs has said most people were “pretty happy” with phone appointments. But charity Age UK has urged doctors not to drop home visits and to “proactively” seek out vulnerable patients.

At the same time, the number of people attending A&E dropped while the numbers of calls made to 111 – the NHS hotline – reached record highs.

But the health service says it is vital that people continue to seek medical help if they need it.

“If you do have symptoms of stroke, chest pain and think it might be a heart attack, a sick child who is deteriorating, if you are a pregnant woman and the baby is not moving as much as it used to – it is important you don’t delay,” says NHS England’s medical director Stephen Powis.

How millions have turned to the government’s furlough scheme

Three months ago, many people would have never heard of furlough.

But millions now rely on the scheme, which pays up to 80% of the wages of staff at businesses struggling to operate under coronavirus restrictions.

About 185,000 firms applied for the scheme on 20 April, the day it went live. Those claims alone covered 1.3 million workers and cost the Treasury an estimated £1.5bn.

Many more have applied since then, with two-thirds of businesses polled by the Office for National Statistics reporting they have furloughed at least part of their workforce.

One in four firms still trading said their turnover had fallen by at least 50% since the lockdown.

Firms have to start paying towards the scheme from August, and it will close entirely in October.

At the same time, applications for universal credit have soared compared with this time last year.

About three-quarters of a million claims were made in the first week of lockdown, more than 20 times as many as would apply in an average week.

While there is still considerable pressure on the benefits system, the figures show that the number of claims is now starting to come down, having peaked in the first week of lockdown.

5) Better air quality

The lack of travelling did make a difference to the environment, as air pollution dropped compared with last year.

Average nitrogen dioxide readings across the UK were lower throughout lockdown than they were on equivalent days of the week in 2019. However, the gap narrowed after restrictions were eased in May and people were able to travel further afield.

While nitrogen dioxide is commonly associated with vehicle exhausts, it is not the only measure of pollution.

Nonetheless, Hugh Coe, professor of atmospheric composition at the University of Manchester, said the drop in nitrogen dioxide levels showed “what we could achieve if we set our minds to it”.

“It was only ever going to be a short term fall because we can’t change our infrastructure over night,” said Prof Coe.

“People needed to get back to work and they were advised not to use public transport because of social distancing.

“So even though fewer people than normal are working, more of them are now going by car.

“However what this period proves is that if we do switch to sustainable energy and zero carbon, we can make a big difference.”

6) Most children are still at home

There are now about 1.5 million children in England going to school, but this is still just over 15% of those registered.

Schools closed to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers on 20 March.

The following Monday the lockdown was announced and the numbers attending fell even further.

The lowest attendance was on 13 April when 36,000 children were in. However, this was Easter Monday and schools would normally have been closed altogether.

Yet teachers and other staff were still in school even during two half-term breaks and the Easter holidays, as they stayed open to continue caring for the children of workers on the front line of the pandemic.

The government has said it expects to have all children in England back in school after the summer holidays in September.

Schools in Wales reopened on Monday and those in Scotland and Northern Ireland will reopen in August.

7) People wanted a cream tea and gardening goods

As people were told to stay at home as much as possible and non-essential shops were closed, searches for items to be delivered surged to record highs.

In the first week after lockdown there was a rise in searches for “birthday delivery” as people tried to make celebrations special in the absence of parties with family and friends.

Based on the number of births per day recorded between 2000 and 2018, about three million under-18s in England and Wales have had a birthday during lockdown.

As well as searches for supermarket delivery slots, with the Easter bank holiday falling around the peak of the pandemic, people were also trying to get hold of chocolate eggs By May, people were seeking other little luxuries such as cream teas.

8) Some people still think ‘normal life’ is a long way off

During the lockdown, people became more and more pessimistic about a swift return to “normal life”, according to surveys by the Office for National Statistics.

In the early days just over one in 10 people surveyed thought it would take more than a year – or even that their life would never return to normal.

By June, it was one in four, although there has been a recent rise in people thinking “normal” is less than six months away.

That may well change as the latest and most substantial easing of lockdown in England starts on Saturday. Pubs and the rest of the hospitality sector are allowed to reopen – along with hairdressers – and a relaxation of the 2m rule will come in.

Northern Ireland has also reduced social distancing to 1m, while in Scotland and Wales the recommendation to stay 2m apart is still in place.

This piece was first published on 13 April and has been updated to include the latest statistics.

Additional reporting by Joel Massey, Jake Horton and Nicholas Barrett.

Source Article