You may recall that, at the start of the pandemic, surveys found remarkably high levels of support for lockdown. In a poll from March of 2020, for example, 93% of Brits supported the Government’s Covid measures; only 4% were opposed.
High levels of pro-lockdown sentiment continued into the second year of the pandemic. A poll taken in July of 2021 – so after months of lockdown and the vaccine rollout – found that one third of Brits would support permanent social distancing, and 45% would support permanent vaccine travel requirements.
As I’ve noted before, one reason why public support for lockdown was so high – in Britain and elsewhere – is that people overestimated the risks of Covid. As George Davey Smith and David Spiegelhalter wrote in the BMJ, adopting targeted approaches would “require a shift away from the notion that we are all seriously threatened by the disease, which has led to levels of personal fear being strikingly mismatched to objective risk of death”.
In a poll from December of 2020, 28% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats said the chance of being hospitalised if you catch Covid is 50%. (The correct answer at the time was less than 5%.) The poll was then repeated a whole year later, and the number of Democrats who believed there’s a 50% chance of being hospitalised if you catch Covid hadn’t budged – it was still 41%!
That’s the bad news. What’s the good news? Well, a major global survey has found that most people on earth believe their country limited freedoms too much during the pandemic. The Democracy Perceptions Index surveyed 52,000 people in 53 countries – comprising 75% of the world’s population. Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed that “their government has gone too far in limiting people’s freedoms”.
As the chart below indicates, there was net agreement with the statement in 50 out of 53 countries; the exceptions being Taiwan, Sweden and China. And the Swedish result can obviously be explained by the fact that Sweden limited people’s freedoms much less than most other Western countries.
Disappointingly, Brits were the fifth least likely to agree that the government went too far in limiting people’s freedoms. Indeed, Western countries are heavily concentrated in the lower half of the chart. By contrast, the first seven spots are all taken by developing economies or emerging markets.
Note: respondents in the survey were also asked whether their government is “responding well to the COVID-19 crisis”, and a majority in most countries said yes. Hence the results in the chart above cannot be taken as evidence that the typical global citizen is now an ardent lockdown sceptic.
Interestingly, however, respondents in most countries gave higher ratings to their government’s response in 2022 than they had done in 2021. Since measures were generally stricter last year, this constitutes further evidence that opinion has shifted toward lockdown scepticism.
Overall, the results are encouraging for those of us who believe that lockdowns were an unjustifiable infringement on civil liberties. However, this does comes with the caveat that Western countries generally had lower levels of agreement that governments went too far in limiting people’s freedoms.