Boris Johnson has unveiled the government’s third attempt at a tripartite coronavirus slogan – for which he may have taken inspiration from Catalonia in Spain.
The prime minister, who at the start of the pandemic discussed shaking hands with patients on hospital visits, introduced “Hands, face, space” by explaining that “hands” was about encouraging people to continue with regular hand-washing. Having waited longer than many other nations to recommend face coverings, the prime minister said “face” meant masks were an integral part of the response to the pandemic. And “space” meant maintaining social distancing, even as the government encourages workers to return to offices if it is safe to do so.
Although it is unclear who came up with the saying, it bears more than a passing resemblance the Catalan government’s slogan: “Distància, mans, mascareta”, or “Distance, hands, mask”.
In March, when Downing Street implemented a near-total lockdown of England, the introduction of the slogan: “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” won plaudits for its simplicity.
As the first wave of infections began to drop and amid government concerns that attempts to restart the economy were faltering, a change was needed to encourage the public out of their homes. In May it was changed to: “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives”.
No 10 has invested heavily in polling and focus groups to help it hone public messages, with the new slogan – which is already being rolled out across social media channels – likely to have been tested widely.
But it has collided with Monday’s formal rollout of the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “Eat out to help out” slogan, developed by the Treasury as part of its offer heavy discounts to people to encourage them back into restaurants. It remains to be seen which one will win the day.