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Britain cautiously plans to ease rigid lockdown restrictions

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a cautious timetable ending the country’s COVID lockdown, one of the strictest in the world with almost all foreign travel outlawed under the guidelines. But the full lockdown isn’t due to finish until at least late June, while mental health issues are increasingly being amplified. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now from a continent in chaos to Britain, where, as we just heard, vaccinations are proceeding at a great pace.

    But one of the world's strictest lockdowns remains. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday a cautious timetable to end it. Schools will reopen in two weeks, but the full lockdown won't end until June, at the earliest.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on the stress that remains.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Like a murmuration of starlings, the coronavirus has been swooping unpredictably around Britain, changing shape, triggering alarm and frustration.

    Some of these starlings migrated from abroad, as have new variants of COVID, bringing death and prolonging the stagnation of lockdown. The casualty rate has fallen, but many restrictions will remain in place until the summer.

    Wilting beneath a barrage of emergency legislation and lack of social interaction, the British are near the end of their tether.

  • Wanda:

    I'm a student. I had a part-time job, and I lost my job because of the virus. The food I get here goes a long way.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Wanda, who came from Nigeria 10 years ago, is getting weekly supplies from a food bank specifically set up to help ethnic minorities in Brighton.

  • Wanda:

    I'm just hanging by, by the thread. I think that's the right word to use. I think so.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The food bank was founded by Juliet Ssekitoleko, originally from Uganda. This week, she's provided more than 70 food parcels.

    As lockdown dragged and schools remained closed, demand increased, especially for families with children.

  • Juliet Ssekitoleko:

    When the schools are open, at least is covered by the school. But now, being that they're at home, more parents, they are struggling more than before.

  • Wanda:

    If I don't have my children with me, I think it's going to affect me mentally. But, with my children home, I look at them and say, I have to be strong for them.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Lockdown stress doesn't discriminate.

  • Gus:

    Well, I miss school because I have very good teachers, and now I'm very upset that I'm at home, so I can't see them.

  • Jago:

    I miss playing with my friends.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Jago and Gus' mother is freelance writer Flora Watkins. Their sister, Romy (ph), was born a few months before lockdown began. Romy has cerebral palsy.

  • Flora Watkins:

    We are very fortunate that the boys have each got a screen. We have got a nice house. There are people for whom it's immeasurably worse.

    But when you see children like mine, who are nice privileged, middle-class children, who are in their own way showing signs of anxiety and depression, I know I found my 6-year-old just lying on the floor of his room the other day, and I'm saying: "What's wrong, darling? What's wrong?"

    And he said: "Mommy, I just — I just don't know."

    Let's put this down now, please. No, I want to go through your mask with you. Gus.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Watkins put her career on hold in March last year, when lockdown closed schools. Like millions of other mothers, she shoulders the burden of educating her children at home.

  • Flora Watkins:

    If anyone had told us that, actually, a year later, they're still going to be doing this, with — still with no end in sight, I think there would have been an epidemic of women sticking their heads in ovens. It — I can't believe we have lived like this for so long.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    For much of the past year, Mike Herbert has been marooned in a cramped student house in Brighton. At 27 years old, he's clinging to the hope that music can save him from 9:00-to-5:00 tedium.

    Herbert is currently furloughed from a part-time sales job that was funding his music degree. His lessons are remote. Collaboration, vital for musical growth, is nonexistent.

  • Mike Herbert:

    It's not quite depression, but it's nearly there. It's almost despondent.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Herbert takes a rare break from solitude, visiting a friend with a home studio to record vocals for his composition "Resist." Strictly speaking, he's breaking the law.

  • Mike Herbert:

    My dream is to become a successful musician. That's what I have always wanted to do. And then this came and hit me like a train.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Herbert contemplated dropping out, but limited plans to reopen some university courses soon offered hope.

  • Mike Herbert:

    There's still a chance for this to work for me. I'm determined. I want to get there.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Half-a-mile away, Venos Savides scans the horizon for potential customers. Savides, who has Greek Cypriot heritage, manages the family fish restaurant. There's no chance of a table. Sit-down service has been banned for months.

  • Venos Savides:

    We have definitely lost half of our revenues over the year. And we're hoping that we're going to be open in summer.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    According to the planned timetable, that should happen. Until then, takeouts must suffice.

  • Venos Savides:

    We're happy as long as we're paying our costs and we get the exposure to our customers, so you don't lose them over the long term.

    I think they have done a brilliant job in the U.K. rolling out this vaccine, and I'm hopeful that, by summer, we're going to see some sort of normal working conditions again.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Despite Britain's vaccination program racing ahead, the government became increasingly authoritarian.

    Virtually all foreign travel has now been outlawed. And hawkish ministers are threatening jail terms of up to 10 years and fines of nearly $14,000 for those who break lockdown laws.

    One newspaper compared Britain to a prison island, on top of which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been widely criticized for not resisting the government's cautious scientific advisers.

  • Boris Johnson:

    I sympathize very much with the exhaustion and the stress that people are experiencing and that businesses are experiencing after so long in lockdown. But, to them, and to them all, I would say that, today, there really is — that the end really is in sight.

  • Juliet Ssekitoleko:

    The lockdown must be lifted, so that we can move on, try to look for jobs to survive.

  • Flora Watkins:

    The thing that really, really makes me and a lot of my friends very, very angry is that there is absolutely no acknowledgement from this government about how hard it's been on women. It's women who are shouldering the brunt of the homeschooling, whose careers are suffering, who have been refused furloughs for child care reasons, women who are being made redundant.

  • Rishi Sunak:

    And we owe moms everywhere an enormous debt of thanks for doing the enormously difficult job of juggling child care and work at this tricky time.

  • Flora Watkins:

    There is absolutely no understanding of what it's like inhabiting the working mother's sphere.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Britain's road to freedom depends on the virus. If it emulates the starling murmuration and surges back, the country's lockdown blues will continue and possibly get worse.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Brighton.

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