In Depth

UK lockdown: are people going out more?

New data suggests increasing number of Brits are not staying at home

With pressure mounting on Boris Johnson to give clarity on the length of the UK’s lockdown, images showing busy roads have been used to suggest that Brits are growing restless. 

The Daily Mail reports that roads were this morning “packed with traffic” and that “phone data showed that millions more people are taking to the roads”, a development that the paper says shows people are returning to their normal habits.

But are people really heading back to work – or is the UK still observing the lockdown?

What does the data say?

According to the Mail, photographs taken during rush hour today showed queues building up on London roads, while the M5 near Bristol and the M6 near Walsall were also busy.

The paper also cites “mobility data from Apple” based on requests for directions via its apps which it says “showed more people are now driving”, while use of public transport “remained static”. 

“Rail commuters continue to pile onto London Underground trains,” the paper adds, “as travel bosses carry on running a reduced service only for key workers.”

The paper cites Canning Town and Canada Water, in east London, as examples of busy underground stations.

Data compiled by the Department for Transport and supplied to the government’s emergency Cobra committee, shows that transport use in Britain was way below normal rates up to 24 April.

“Traffic volumes this week have shown a small increase of three percentage points compared to previous weekday volumes,” the Department for Transport said. “Rail and Tube use are down by more than 95%.”

Walking is also steadily increasing, according to the Mail, up 8% on the week before in London on Saturday.

There is a small increase in Apple mobility data, but the government document points out that “the number of requests for directions involving public transport has dropped by over 80% from normal usage”.

And while the number of requests for walking and driving directions increased by around seven percentage points between 3 and 24 April, use has still fallen by around 70% since the beginning of March.

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Leaving home to exercise, such as running or walking, once a day, is permitted under lockdown rules, meaning that a small increase in searches for walking directions is not necessarily an indication that people are flouting the regulations.

The Mail also reports that TomTom congestion data in London showed 14% congestion at 8am today, a one percentage point increase on the figure recorded last Monday, but down 49 percentage points on normal.

The small increase comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel warned drivers to stay off the roads unless their journey is essential.

YouGov polling from 20-21 April also suggests that Brits still back the lockdown measures.

Just 16% of people said that buying luxury items was a reasonable excuse for being outside, 29% said that yoga in a park was a good reason to leave the house and only 14% of people consider driving for a long time to do exercise is acceptable.

Meanwhile, 91% said that going for a run or cycle was reasonable, with 95% believing that taking a walk outside was a fair reason to leave the house.

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