LONDON—While continental Europeans were closing schools and putting soldiers on the streets to enforce strict quarantine rules, the British government’s official advice to its citizens was, essentially, just to keep calm and carry on. Schools, restaurants, theaters, clubs, and sporting venues remained open; only the over-70s and those with flu-like symptoms were advised to stay at home.
The low-key British response was driven by a controversial theory embraced by the U.K. government’s top scientists: that the best way to ease the long-term consequences of the coronavirus pandemic was to allow the virus to spread naturally in order to build up the population’s herd immunity.
But Johnson’s tone, Britain’s policy, and indeed the reaction of many Britons remained in strong contrast to the rest of Europe—a striking echo of the prime minister’s go-it-alone approach to Brexit earlier in the year. Johnson is now taking an approach closer to that of U.S. President Donald Trump—appealing to the public for voluntary cooperation rather than ordering it—than to that of the European Union.
In contrast, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, warning that his country was “in a state of war” with the coronavirus, announced that citizens would have to register their intention to leave their houses in a nationwide website or face a 38 euro ($42) fine, enforced by 100,000 police officers. Britain has not enforced any mandatory bans on movement or on the opening of bars and places of entertainment.
Instead, Johnson said that the government was giving “very strong advice that public venues such as theaters should no longer be visited” but added, “I don’t believe it will be necessary to use” enforcement powers. And on the evening of Johnson’s announcement, Twitter filled with images of many Britons cheerfully defying the government’s advice by drinking in pubs and clubs. The following morning, the prime minister’s own father, 79-year-old Stanley Johnson, defiantly told a chat show that “of course I’ll go to a pub if I need to go to a pub.”
Johnson’s go-it-alone strategy had been under fire for several days from both opposition leaders at home and officials abroad. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn blasted the government for being “complacent” and “well behind the curve” in its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Singapore’s Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong told journalists Sunday that the “U.K. and Switzerland … have abandoned any measure to contain or restrain the virus.” Read More…..