Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2020
COVID-19 and HUMAN BEHAVIOUR
Cite as IIAI/RDC – 1/10/20.
On March 16th 2020, in the first of a series of moves against Covid-19 , Matt Hancock (Secretary for Health and Social Care) announced to the House of Commons that “today, we are advising people against all unnecessary social contact [and] all unnecessary travel” . Supporting the move, Andrew Ashworth (Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care) commented on how the virus “exploits ambivalence” to spread quickly .
On March 23rd 2020, in a televised address to the Nation, Boris Johnson (UK Prime Minister) issued what he saw as a “very simple instruction”, stay at home and only leave for “very limited purposes” . Those restrictions remained until partial easing commenced July 4th.
In April 2020, an editorial in Nature noted how lock-downs and closures had triggered a series of chain reactions, harming the global economy. Billions of £s and >40,000 UK deaths later, restrictions are again tightening and we might, therefore, revisit the editorial’s main point. In short, and since individual and group behaviour either fuels or fights a pandemic , the race against Covid-19 will only be won if science is supported by the necessary social behaviour .
On September 20th 2020, Matt Hancock would emphasise that “the first line of defence is peoples behaviour” . Whilst correct, social and behavioural science knows that pandemics require “significant shifts in behaviour” . Furthermore, such shifts rely on a range of psychological reactions  being understood and catered for in properly targeted messages.
In the working environment, such shifts will be assisted if their initiatives include awareness that, a). the importance of the freedom/s being threatened will vary across a workforce, b). there will be individual variations in the perceived magnitude of any particular threat, and c). regardless of variations at a). and b)., additional stressors such as those associated with Covid-19 can negatively effect individual and group decision-making processes.
As regards appropriate face masks/coverings, they reduce the spread of Covid-19 , may increase other hygiene behaviours (e.g. hand washing)  and may even reduce the severity of symptoms in those who contract the virus . Whilst “temperature” checks may be ‘comforting’, many products on the market were not developed for Covid-19 and only detect skin, as opposed to core, temperature . Furthermore, temperature screening will not, of course, detect an infected person who is asymptomatic. Consequently, Face, Space and Hygiene are key along with vigilance and prompt self-reporting from employees who suspect they may have symptoms. Obviously, the wearing of a face mask/covering is not, in and of itself, an opportunity to reduce distancing. In addition, and where required for operational reasons, the use of eye protection (e.g. face shields, goggles) should be encouraged as a further level of protection against the virus .
1. Covid-19 (derived from Coronavirus Disease 2019) is caused by a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome named SARS-Cov-2. Initially, it was referred to as 2019-nCoV where ‘n’ meant novel; i.e. a new strain that had not been identified before.
Assumed by many to be a Winter virus, not all evidence supports the view (e.g. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Coronaviruses, General Background, 8/9/20; Carson et al; Nat Commun 11, 4312, 2020).
2. Hansard HC, Vol. 673, Col. 697, 16/3/20.
Mr Hancock would later advise the Commons that March 16th was when “lockdown truly started” [Hansard, HC, Vol. 678, Col. 1797. 16/7/20].
3. Hansard HC, Vol. 673, Col. 698, 16/3/20.
5. Nat Hum Behav 4, 435, 2020.
6. Nat. Nanotechnol, 15, 239-240, 2020.
7. See at time frames 16:05 – 16:10, Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday, Highlights, 20th September, 2020.
8. Nat Hum Behav 4. 460-471. 2020.
9. Miron & Brehm (2006).
10. Chu, et al (2020). “Physical Distancing, Face Masks, and Eye Protection to Prevent Person-to-Person Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”. The Lancet, 395, 10242, 1973-1987. June 27, 2020.
11. BMJ 2020;370:m2913.
12. Ghandi, et al (2020). “Masks Do More Than Protect Others During Covd-19: Reducing the Inoculum of SARS-CoV-2 to Protect the Wearer.” Journal of General Internal Medicine. 35, 3063-3066 (2020).
13. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dont-rely-on-temperature-screening-products-for-detection-of-coronavirus-covid-19-says-mhra
Note: Main Image: Courtesy CDG.
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