First we were told to “stay home”. Then we were warned to “stay alert”. Now, Britons are being advised to remember “hands, face, space”.
The messaging from the government has changed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting the different stages of the UK’s fight against COVID-19.
‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’
This clear and stark advice from ministers became embedded in the national consciousness in the early days of the pandemic.
It was front and centre of the government’s messaging when the lockdown was introduced in March.
The slogan reinforced the aim of the national shutdown – to slow the spread of the virus and stop the health service being overwhelmed.
For Britons, it was their duty to stay at home as much as they could. They would be doing their bit in the national effort against the coronavirus.
‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’
In early May, Boris Johnson felt sufficiently confident enough to outline a roadmap out of the lockdown.
The prime minister set out plans for a phased reopening of parts of the economy – such as non-essential retail and hospitality – as well as plans for pupils to begin returning to school.
Alongside this, a new slogan was unveiled.
Where once Britons were told to stay at home, now they were being told to “stay alert”.
But the slogan drew criticism for being vague.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said at the time: “Stay alert isn’t clear, most people have been saying what does that mean? So, there’s a very, you know, basic issue here about communications.”
The leaders of the devolved administrations also refused to sign up to the change in advice, sticking with the “stay home” message.
They said it was too soon to be changing the messaging.
‘Hands, face, space’
With a range of lockdown restrictions lifted, life in the UK began returning to something approaching normality in July.
But progress in the fight against COVID-19 remains tentative and fragile.
This is illustrated by the introduction of the first local lockdown in Leicester and restrictions being placed on separate households meeting up in parts of northern England.
And with the infection numbers edging upwards, the PM decides to “squeeze that brake pedal” and postpone the latest planned easing of lockdown.
In a Downing Street press conference to announce the move, Mr Johnson revealed what he described as a “pretty punchy” new slogan – “Hands, face, space”.
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