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Covid restriction compliance fell to lowest level since last summer ahead of May reopenings

The level of worry about Covid-19 and compliance with restrictions both had a “particularly steep fall” towards the end of April.

A STEEP DROP-OFF in people’s self-reported compliance with Covid-19 restrictions at the end of April means adherence to the measures had fallen to its lowest level since summer 2020.

Behavioural research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) reveals that, by the end of April, people were leaving their homes more than in the period prior to Christmas and more than they had at any point since the beginning of September last year.

coronavirus-fri-may-7-2021 A road cleaner passes part of the 'IN THESE STRANGE TIMES: an evolving series created in response to the pandemic' exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin's city centre. Source: PA

The research contained updated evidence from a number of behavioural studies. It was presented to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on 28 April and the minutes of the meeting were published today.

It found that people have been steadily leaving their homes more and more since the end of January. 

The findings indicate that people’s level of worry about Covid-19 is strongly associated with their behaviour.

The level of worry about the virus and self-reported compliance with restrictions both had a “particularly steep fall” towards the end of April.

The meeting took place before it was decided that a range of restrictions on travel, gatherings and retail would be eased during the month of May.

The minutes note that this measure does not indicate what activities people are leaving their homes to undertake. They also say that better weather may mean that much of the increased activity is taking place outside rather than in, riskier, indoor settings.

“Importantly, the decline is not driven by people abandoning the guidelines but rather reflects the reality that more and more people are gradually ‘pushing the boundaries’ on measures currently in place,” the minutes note.

People who were previously reporting compliance at seven-out-of-seven are now more likely to respond with a six, or even a five. It remains the case that very few give a lower score.

The research found a “clear increase” in multiple kinds of social activity in the weeks leading up to the meeting.

NPHET said that an increase in social visits to homes was of most concern, as these visits “generally do not involve protective behaviours”. However, the upward trend in these visits levelled off towards the end of March.

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The ESRI found that 53% of the public believe the general approach to reopening is appropriate. However, a “growing minority” (23%) of people think the reaction of the government is “too extreme”.

The research says that the population foresees a slow reopening with the majority expecting it to be early 2022 before all restrictions are removed in Ireland.

It was also noted that there is a high level of acceptance for the Covid-19 vaccine among the public, with over 80% of the population saying they will take a vaccine when offered.

There has regularly been a delay in the publication of NPHET meeting minutes, with the public health team citing a “workload issue”.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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