The protests in the US are much larger than any other country, with rallies in Michigan drawing thousands. Most protesters from mainly conservative and far-right groups echo conspiracies pushed by people like Alex Jones, who attended a rally in Texas. Given the danger to public health these protests pose, not to mention the outright hostility to police and healthcare workers, in any normal era, with any normal president, these protests would be condemned.
Donald Trump has tweeted echoing the protesters to ‘liberate’ states and calling the protesters ‘very responsible’. This is not only scientifically incompetent, but dangerous
Whilst most of these protests tend to be a very loud minority, that minority becomes almost impossible to ignore when it is backed by the President. Meaning there is now a significant chance that these far-right protesters will have a say in whether or not states in America will re-open businesses, therefore endangering citizens.
Comparably while protests in the UK have been significantly smaller, they are also increasing in size, with anti-5G protests drawing a lot of support. And while the Government has not applauded supporters, they have also been flagrantly disregarding scientific advice around issues like PPE. There is an obvious link between government disregard for science and the rise of the dangerous conspiracies fuelling these protests. After all, if the leaders of the country don't believe scientists then why would the people?
The protests in the US and UK, though varying in scale, pose the same threat to public health. Therefore it is the responsibility of both governments to condemn the protests and start listening to scientists.
However, some are not adjusting, and they are making their defiance known. The poignant images of US healthcare workers blocking the vehicles of lockdown protesters will one day be published in history books. UK citizens have gawked in astonishment at the countless coverage of our neighbours across the sea protesting lockdown measures in the name of ‘freedom’. The UK and the US both went into lockdown at a similar time, both have similar restrictions, and both have witnessed an unprecedented amount of deaths in their communities. So, why, are our reactions to lockdown so different?
Across the US, anti-lockdown protests have arisen in over a dozen states, with some reaching over 2500 participants. Several participants have also attended with firearms as gun rights groups have become central to the protest, referencing lockdown’s infringements on American’s civil liberties. It is clear the prioritisation of freedom is inherent to a significant part of American society.
As seen countless times in decisions to not tighten gun laws to prevent mass shootings, the risk of freedom being curtailed for a potential greater good is unacceptable. Now freedom faces a new threat; the coronavirus.
Protesters have justified their actions by saying the stay-at-home measures imposed by state governments are an overreaction and that the damage to local economies will be worse in the long-term.
By comparison, when searching online about UK lockdown protests, one of the first results is that both participants of a protest of two on the roof of Shrewsbury College against the lockdown were arrested. Next, that a one-off group of about 20 people were seen protesting outside New Scotland Yard, where a man was taken away by police after he refused to comply with an order for the protesters to go home and follow lockdown rules. There is clearly a huge difference between the scale of the US’ and the UK’s protests and, most importantly, the response to them.
The difference could be explained by how the situation has been portrayed to the public by their leaders. Whilst the UK PM Boris Johnson was first criticised for undermining the severity of the virus, the government are now maintaining the narrative that the coronavirus is a serious, and most importantly real, threat to British health. Johnson himself being hospitalised in intensive care for the virus likely unintentionally convinced many of the need to abide to lockdown rules.
Yet, over in the USA, President Donald Trump has actually encouraged those to flout lockdown rules. He tweeted the slogans of the "Liberate" protests in several Democratic-run states. He has since described the protesters as ‘great people’. It is no coincidence that both the organisers and the attendees have largely been conservative and pro Trump.
Protests that break lockdown rules and put citizens at risk are irresponsible and an insult to the healthcare workers risking their lives to help others. As lockdown fatigue increases, hopefully there is not a corresponding increase in protests. However, there is comfort in the fact that most people, in the UK and US are alike, are abiding to the rules in the goal to limit the spread of COVID-19.