For the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, more people disapprove of the government's handling of the outbreak than support it, a new poll from the U.K.'s Observer newspaper showed on Sunday.
The poll, carried out by Opinium, showed the overall level of support of the government's handling was at minus 3%, with 42% of Brits disapproving and 39% approving.
On March 26, the approval for the government's response was more than 42%.
Opinium's head of polling Adam Drummond said: "In part, this was likely inevitable as the relatively simple and almost unanimous decision to lock down has given way to much more contestable decisions about how and when to open up."
The turn in fortunes comes as debate intensifies over the easing of the lockdown. Critics have focused on the lack of a unified national approach that responds to concerns from unions over the reopening of schools amid a general lack of testing and shortages in personal protective equipment deemed necessary to safely reopen the economy.
Leaders in the north of England have been particularly critical of the government, with the local councils of Liverpool and a number of others refusing to follow government advice to reopen schools in June.
Writing in the Observer, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, of the opposition Labour Party, said: "In Greater Manchester, we had no real notice of the measures. On the eve of a new working week, the PM was on TV ‘actively encouraging' a return to work. Even though that would clearly put more cars on roads and people on trams, no one in the government thought it important to tell the cities who'd have to cope with that."
"If the government carries on in the same vein, expect to see an even greater fracturing of national unity," he said. "Different places will adopt their own messaging and policies."
"Nervousness in the north about the R number will see more councils adopt their own approach on schools, as Liverpool, Gateshead and Hartlepool are doing. Arguments will increase about funding," he said.
Northern regions of England have a higher rate of transmission than London and the south, leading to criticism the one-size-fits-all approach could lead to a dreaded second wave and further lockdowns.
"If we don't get the help we need, there's a risk of a second spike here which will pass the infection back down the country through the Midlands to London," Burnham said.
Nevertheless, the government is adamant on reopening schools on June 1.
Government minister Michael Gove, speaking about local authorities refusing to reopen their schools, told BBC: "The clear scientific and clinical advice is that it is safe to have schools reopen, accompanied with social distancing."
"Children only have one chance at education. Over the course of the last decade, we've made significant strides in closing the gap between the richest and the poorest in our schools. This lockdown has put that backward," he said.
"If you really care about children, you'll want them to be in schools. You will want them to be learning. You will want them to have new opportunities. So look to your responsibilities."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote his own piece in the Mail on Sunday, saying: "I understand people will feel frustrated with some of the new rules. We are trying to do something that has never had to be done before – moving the country out of a full lockdown, in a way which is safe and does not risk sacrificing all of your hard work.
"I recognize what we are now asking is more complex than simply staying at home, but this is a complex problem and we need to trust in the good sense of the British people."
Since the virus emerged in Wuhan, China last December, it has spread to 188 countries and regions.
The global death toll from the novel coronavirus has exceeded 312,000, with more than 4.65 million confirmed cases and over 1.7 million recoveries, according to a running tally by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
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