At every stage in managing the coronavirus pandemic, governments have had to choose between legislation and persuasion. The UK authorities have occasionally gone too far in the authoritarian direction, as when police officers tried to stop people sunbathing last year or when parliament inadvertently made protest illegal.
The advantage of legal bans is that they are clear and fair, in that – in theory at least – everyone is treated the same. The problem with advice is that some people will take it more seriously than others, and that some people will, in the memorable words of Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, “tear the pants out of” the guidance.
As we report today, there is some confusion about the government’s policy, especially on foreign travel. Holidays in “amber list” countries such as Spain, France and Greece are not banned, but they are discouraged. The prime minister has said that people should not travel to and from such countries except in “extreme circumstances”, such as the serious illness of a relation.
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