Coronavirus Stops, Starts Test Europeans’ Patience

    15 August 2020

    A short video making fun of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's guidance about the new coronavirus has become popular on social media.

    The video shows actor Matt Lucas. "So we are saying don't go to work, go to work, don't take public transport, go to work, don't go to work," he says. Lucas is one of the country's best-known humorists and famous for the BBC television series Little Britain.

    For his fans, Lucas's video perfectly described the growing frustration many British people, especially young people, are feeling.

    Early in July, the government advised use of "travel corridors" to visit Europe. The idea was to let vacationers travel in Europe without the need to quarantine for 14 days when they returned home. Thousands of people took this advice. And thousands more bought trips only to have the government quickly restart quarantine rules for people traveling from Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium and Andorra. France is likely to be added to that list.

    The sudden changes have caused anger and led lawmakers to worry about the lack of a consistent message.

    Yvonne Fovargue is a Labour Party lawmaker. She told VOA that there seems to be a lack of clear information about how the government makes its list of safe countries.

    Growing frustration

    British people are not alone in losing patience. Frustration is growing across Europe. Governments have had a hard time making clear decisions as they struggle to slow coronavirus infections. This is not helping efforts to persuade citizens to stay careful or to accept on-and-off restrictions as virus infections increase.

    Jeremy Warner is an economics commentator for Britain's Independent newspaper. He told VOA there is no consistency in the government's approach. He also said there seems to be no end to the economic damage from anti-virus measures.

    Critics admit that dealing with a little-understood virus is not an easy job. But the stops and starts risk damaging public support for some countries' governments, experts and public health officials say.

    Tourists wearing protective face masks walk by a COVID-19 information sign in Nice as France reinforces mask-wearing as a part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections across the country, in Nice, France August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
    Tourists wearing protective face masks walk by a COVID-19 information sign in Nice as France reinforces mask-wearing as a part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections across the country, in Nice, France August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard


    Part of the problem is that scientists and politicians disagree. They share a common enemy: the virus. But government leaders have to consider how to limit the damage to jobs, businesses and people's livelihoods.

    Janet Daley is a writer for the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that often supports Johnson's government. She told VOA that there has not been "agreement between all members of the government [and its official policy advisers]." She added that ministers have promised too much in order to make the public feel hopeful.

    Britain's health minister, Matt Hancock, has been blamed for unrealistic claims. In April, he announced an app that follows the contacts of people who may have the coronavirus. He said it would be ready in England by mid-May. But it is still not working. He also said antibody tests would mean real progress, but that has not proven true.

    Johnson, too, has disappointed some. He said he would set up a "world-class" testing and contact tracing system. But so far it has not worked as well as Germany's. Several local officials in England have started their own systems.

    Politics and science

    Last month, the British leader eased restrictions, including the reopening of pubs. He promised "We'll be back to normal by Christmas."

    That earned disapproval from current and former scientific advisers to the government. Current chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance told a parliamentary committee that strong restrictions on movement might be needed as the winter months near.

    This month the British government has ordered people to stay at home in some cities, affecting more than four million people.

    Problems around Europe

    Johnson is not alone among European leaders in trying to balance his comments. Too much hopefulness and people stop following the rules. Too much hopelessness and it is hard to persuade people to go back to work or spend money.

    The governments of Italy, France and Greece have warned of possible new restrictions as the number of infections rises again in parts of Europe.

    For example, French Prime Minister Jean Castex at first said that there was no chance that restrictions on movement would be ordered a second time. But days later, Castex warned that people would be ordered to stay at home if they do not keep away from each other to limit spread of the virus

    Recently, new infections have been reported in several cities popular with vacationers, including Paris.

    The increase in cases throughout Europe is partly blamed on poor decision-making by young people. Most of the rise is among people in their twenties and thirties. Many are suspected of becoming infected at beach gatherings and parties.

    I'm Alice Bryant.

    Jamie Dettmer reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    frustration –n. being upset because you cannot do something or are given conflicting instructions

    corridor –n. a narrow area of land that is known for something special or specific

    quarantine –v. to cause someone to be kept away from others in an effort to prevent the spread of disease

    consistent –adj. acting in the same way all the time

    approach –n. a way of doing things

    app (application) –n. a computer program which often operates on mobile phones and carries out a special job

    tracing –n. to follow something to its cause, to find out were someone came from

    pub –n. (abbreviation for public house) a business in Britain or Ireland that sells food and alcohol