Britain going back into lockdown. Will people comply?

Great Britain is the next European country to be pushed back into a full pandemic lockdown according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. With new COVID cases on the rise, he’s apparently decided that having people out and about, getting on with their lives in something approaching a normal fashion was too dangerous to accept the risks. To say that some of his citizens were a bit put off by the idea is probably an understatement. But before the ink was dry on the initial proclamation, Johnson came back and said that four weeks might not be enough. The lockdown could wind up lasting even longer. (Associated Press)

A new national lockdown in England may have to last longer than the planned four weeks if coronavirus infection rates don’t fall quickly enough, a senior government minister said Sunday.

The lockdown announced Saturday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to run from Thursday until Dec. 2. Johnson says it’s needed to stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients within weeks.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said it was the government’s “fervent hope” that the lockdown would end on time, but that could not be guaranteed.

To be clear, this isn’t a situation that’s unique to the United Kingdom. Germany is also going back to imposing severe restrictions on bars, restaurants and public gatherings. And most European governments have a lot more power to lock down their citizens as few of them have constitutions offering the levels of freedom that Americans (supposedly) enjoy.

In his original announcement, BoJo talked about the need for Britons to “be humble in the face of nature.” He went on to say that the current infection and death rates were rising “faster than the worst-case scenario of our scientific advisers.”

To be fair to Johnson, the virus situation over there is indeed looking pretty grim. With 25,000 new cases per day on average, 2,000 new hospitalizations and 200 deaths, the Brits are seeing levels of infection that will soon surpass the worst of the initial surge in the spring. Their latest official estimates are projecting the daily hospitalization rate to reach 3,000 within a couple of weeks if nothing changes. At that point, they will have exceeded their ICU bed capacity by a considerable margin, and daily deaths are projected to surpass 800.

The question now is how well the Brits will tolerate these orders. Back in the spring, there was widespread compliance with the first lockdown mandates. But by last month, there were numerous reports of “pandemic fatigue” across the country. Johnson was accused of botching the response to the pandemic and the wide support he enjoyed following his election has been steadily eroding. Many in England have been openly defying restrictions on movement and gatherings, leading to a need for the government to arrest some of those acting in defiance of the orders.

If BoJo doesn’t find a way to get this situation under control he’s going to have a rebellion on his hands. Great Britain just finished going through a spate of elections and votes of no-confidence in a shorter period of time than nearly any other era in modern history. There were high hopes that the last election might settle down all the unrest and divisiveness that Brexit seemed to spawn and the government would have the chance to stabilize for at least five years. But as with much of the rest of the world, the pandemic has had a way of destabilizing everything. If he’s not careful, Boris Johnson may wind up being the next political casualty of COVID-19 even after surviving a bout of the disease himself.