Britons turn positive on UK pandemic response, firms more upbeat - polls

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People talk to each other in the street in Primrose Hill, following the easing of lockdown restrictions, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London

LONDON (Reuters) - People in Britain have turned positive about the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis and companies are also more optimistic, according to three surveys published on Thursday.

Kantar Public said more people in Britain supported the government's response to the pandemic than were critical for the first time since May last year.

Its March poll showed 48% of people thought the government was handling the COVID-19 outbreak very or fairly well, up three points from February, while those who thought it had handled it poorly remained at 46%.

Britain has suffered Europe's heaviest COVID-19 death toll but it has also rolled out vaccinations at a faster rate than its peers.

The Kantar poll showed more people expected the economy would be doing better in 12 months' time - 32% compared with 23% in February - while a third said the pandemic had hurt their incomes, down from 35% in February and 42% in January.

The British Chambers of Commerce said 55% of member firms expected higher turnover in 12 months ahead - the highest in a year - although immediate business conditions were well below pre-pandemic levels as the country began 2021 under lockdown.

"The marked improvement in business confidence suggests that the expected first-quarter contraction in output will be the nadir for the UK economy in 2021," Suren Thiru, the BCC's head of economics, said.

"However, the economic scarring from COVID may mean that the recovery is dramatically uneven across different sectors, locations and cohorts of people."

A separate poll of employers showed optimism among directors in the economy was at its highest since just after the 2019 election victory of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, rising nine points from February to +14.

Investment and hiring intentions for the year ahead picked up too, the Institute of Directors said.

Kantar polled 1,102 people between March 25 and March 29.

The BCC's poll was based on responses gathered from 6,103 firms between Feb. 15 and March 11.

The IoD surveyed 703 firms between March 12 and March 29.

(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Andy Bruce)