Covid hygiene measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing, are likely to remain in place for “foreseeable years to come”, Welsh behaviour experts have warned.
An analysis by the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) concluded “personal protective behaviours” must be reinforced even when the pandemic is over, as infection is likely to persist within the population.
Such behaviours also include hand washing, respiratory hygiene and household ventilation.
TAG’s experts say there will be a need to “recalibrate” everyday behaviours, citing the now-standard use of face coverings seen in Asian countries.
In a report to ministers, they said: “It took around 200 years to eradicate smallpox with vaccination, and whilst medical science has greater power to address Covid-19, there will be a likely continued need to establish more effective hygiene behavioural norms for the foreseeable years to come.”
TAG also warned of likely “complacency” by people once they’ve been vaccinated, leading to fewer people wearing face coverings and not distancing, and more mixing of households.
In turn this could prompt “over-confidence” in non-vaccinated people, especially if they believe all vulnerable individuals are “safe” once jabbed.
The TAG report was published to advise ministers on the messaging they should deliver to the public, and how behaviour analysis can inform policy making.
In general, said the report, public compliance with Covid rules has been very high throughout the pandemic.
The vast majority also support the restrictions.
In some areas, however, adherence is lower, such as household mixing and non-essential travel.
Moreover there is a general reluctance to seek Covid tests or to self-isolate.
A study by University College London found that two in five people are self-isolating for less than 10 days when they develop symptoms, and one in five when they come into contact with someone with Covid symptoms.
Improving this shortfall is crucial as long-term solutions to Covid-19 will require an effective Test, Trace, Protect system, said TAG.
This can only be achieved if Cardiff addresses “structural inequalities” and existing barriers through adequate financial, practical and emotional support.
For example, evidence suggests many people are refused the £500 isolation grant as they do not meet its eligibility criteria.
While the public’s desire to comply with Covid measures is high, some people are breaking the rules in what has been attributed to “pandemic fatigue”.
However TAG said it’s also possible some people want to do what is being asked of them – but are limited in their ability to do so.
These factors include a lack of support, particularly for those in low paid jobs and living in crowded multi-generational households.
Other compliance failures may be simply due to “non-conscious behavioural drivers”.
“A failure to maintain two metre distance may reflect historical normative influences (ie. how close people usually stand to have a conversation) even when there is a conscious intention to distance,” said TAG.
Sometimes everyday life intervenes, over-riding best intentions.
Juggling things like working from home, financial insecurity and home schooling can make people forget what’s necessary, such as ensuring they take a face covering when leaving home.
“This reinforces the importance or supporting individuals in establishing new habits and routines, as well as developing new social norms to automatically trigger protective behaviours,” said TAG.
Did you know we offer a free email newsletter service?
Each North Wales Live bulletin delivers the latest breaking news, what’s on events and the hottest talking points straight to your inbox.
For more information about how to subscribe click here.
Other people are just applying “subjective rule interpretation” to justify risky behaviour, said the report.
It suggested a minority of people are trying to work out what they can do, rather than what they should do.
Fuelling this trend may be media reports highlighting Covid breaches, such as travelling for exercise.
For this reason, the TAG report suggested: “Care should be taken not to further emphasise examples of contravening guidance and rules.”
What are your views on the current school situation?
Let us know in our survey below:
Cant see the survey? Click here.
In terms of future messaging, this should continue to stress the importance of “stay in your home” and “stay away from friends” directives, recognising that people are “creatures of habit”.
TAG also recommends that the Welsh Government “celebrates positive behaviour”, stressing the “great efforts people are making to control the virus” and the benefits to society that will ensue.
Examples of positive messaging could include “Be indoors with your family bubble” or “Live life at two metres”.
At the same time ministers should avoid branding or sloganeering: TAG said people just didn’t understand or comply with “Rule of six” or “Hands face space”.
Finally, TAG’s behaviour experts recommended the public are encouraged to apply “risk perception literacy” – otherwise known as common sense.
Will people be prepared to stick with Covid hygiene measures beyond the summer? Have your say in the comments section.
-- to www.dailypost.co.uk