Covid-19 handling has damaged UK's international reputation, says survey

Boris Johnson’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the international reputation of the UK, a new survey from Kings College London has suggested.

Academics also said the survey demonstrated the appetite for more international collaboration on global health issues.

One in three (36 per cent) Brits believe the UK Government’s handling of the pandemic has damaged the country’s reputation, with just one in five (21 per cent) saying the way it was handled has made a positive impact.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).

This is a similar proportion to the number of American citizens, with nearly two fifths (38 per cent) of people in the US saying their government’s handling of the pandemic damaged their internal reputation, with 21 per cent saying it had had a positive impact.

The survey, undertaken by IpsosMori for the Policy Institute at Kings College London, comes ahead of a lecture by Edinburgh University public health expert Professor Devi Sridhar.

The poll interviewed 1,129 adults aged 16 to 75 in the UK between October 29 and November 1.

The results have been published with Covid-related hospital admissions in Scotland falling fastest among the over-75s, in what has been suggested is the first sign that booster vaccinations are working.

Public Health Scotland figures showed that weekly Covid admissions among the 75 to 79 age group dropped by 41 per cent between mid-October and the first week of November.

Among the over-80s the decline was 47 per cent, compared to just 19 per cent across all age groups.

Booster uptake rates have been high among the elderly, with 80.2 per cent of over-80s, 87.4 per cent of 75 to 79-year-olds and 83.7 per cent of 70 to 74-year-olds in Scotland already having their third jab.

Professor Linda Bauld, chair of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told The Herald newspaper: “It's pretty clear that the immune response to the booster starts to happen within the first week, so I think we are seeing a booster effect.

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“That's what Israel saw. Maybe I'm being too optimistic, but the uptake is good in the older age groups.”

Earlier this week Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland had passed the one million milestone for booster vaccinations.

An online portal allowing the over-50s and other eligible groups to book their own appointments launched on Monday and will shortly be made available to the over-40s.

A total of 54,000 people used the service to make their appointments within the first 24 hours of it going live.

The encouraging figures come as the IpsosMori survey found Brits are split on whether government’s should prioritise working closely with other nations to tackle Covid, or to focus on the domestic battle.

Just over a third (36 per cent) of Brits said international co-operation should be the priority, with 31 per cent stating that measures at home should be the focus.

When compared to pre-Covid, public opinion has reversed on the issue of whether the UK needs to do more to protect itself from the world or to open itself up.

In 2019, 41 per cent of Brits said the UK should do more to open itself up, with 23 per cent calling for more protection.

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This year, that has almost entirely reversed, with 36 per cent calling for more steps to be taken to protect the UK and 31 per cent wanting further opening up.

This is in comparison to the US, which is more strongly of the belief more needs to be done to protect the country, with 55 per cent arguing for more protection and just 18 per cent calling for more steps towards opening up.

Prof Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, said: “These latest results show that that although concerns about opening up to the world have increased in the UK and US, most people still think greater co-operation between nations on global health issues is a good thing.

"We can see how international co-operation can create momentum in tackling financial crises and climate change. However, this has not been the case for Covid-19 with many countries going it on their own and not learning from others, which has meant the pandemic has been prolonged.

"To prepare and overcome the next pandemic, it is imperative that we work multilaterally.”

The public health expert is set to deliver the 2021 Fulbright Distinguished Lecture on Friday, with her talk focusing on international health collaboration and what should change to prevent the next pandemic.

Reacting, Bobby Duffy, professor of public policy and director of the Policy Institute at King’s, said: “The public in the UK and the US seem in two minds on whether each country should hunker down and protect themselves, or reach out to the rest of the world. Now the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how connected we are.

"But it’s actually an understandable response – people feel like we should think of ourselves first in the current crisis, but work with others to help prevent future global health challenges.

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"That makes sense. The pandemic has shown how disconnected our plans and response are, and hopefully lessons will be learnt for the future – but we shouldn’t count on it without continued effort, as we tend to always focus down on the immediate when we’re dealing with a crisis and its aftermath.”

Kelly Beaver, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, added: “The concerns about global health issues such as the pandemic have clearly sunk in with the public in the UK, who are now more likely to believe that the country should take further steps to protect itself from today’s world.

"And whilst there is that concern among the public about opening up to the rest of the world too much given the potential pandemic risks, there is a very clear sense among Britons that we should be working more closely with other nations when it comes to other global health issues, highlighting the support for a multilateral approach to such issues.”

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