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Coronavirus

Lack of clarity in government messaging could lead to low public compliance if restrictions are reintroduced, expert warns

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As health leaders call on the UK Government to implement Covid-19 contingency plans, and the Welsh First Minister threatens stricter measures unless infection rates decline, a leading Covid-19 behavioural expert from Swansea University has warned that clear messaging from the UK and devolved governments will be essential to ensure high public compliance if additional measures are introduced. 

The warning from Dr Simon Williams, Senior Lecturer in People and Organisation at Swansea University, comes following the publication of a joint study by researchers at Swansea University and Manchester University which found that confusion over rules, a lack of trust in government, and feelings of helplessness or rebelliousness were some of the main reasons for rule-breaking during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“To help avert a winter crisis in the NHS, the government needs to take into consideration the reasons why some people might not be adhering to the rules or following guidance for reducing transmission, and that adherence may wane in some over the coming months, if additional measures are introduced”, said Dr Williams. 

The researchers conducted online focus groups with 51 adults from across the UK about their experiences of Covid-19, and found that:

  • The main cause of non-compliance was caused by confusion over rules that were changing frequently, as well as there being different rules in countries across the UK.
  • Frequent rule changes and government announcements led to alert fatigue – where many people feel they are unable to follow, understand or recall specific rules, due to the overload instructions and information.
  • A lack of trust in the government was found to be a significant factor for some.

The study, published by PLOS ONE, also found that as the pandemic draws on, some people are experiencing a learned helplessness, and feel like they have given up following Covid rules. Others may be increasingly resistant or rebellious about the rules, with some people concerned that sustained lockdown measures would increasingly bring about civil unrest.

Dr Williams, lead author of the study, said: “Our study found that more often than not, where people didn’t follow measures, it was because they felt like the rules were hard to understand because they had been changing so often over time, and across different places – for example in different countries in the UK. In these cases, people weren’t intentionally breaking rules, but were adapting or interpreting them as best they can.

“One of our key themes was alert fatigue. This is where people stop taking information in, or find it hard to recall important information, because of information overload. Many people are left feeling fed up or overwhelmed by the constant rule changes and announcements and it could be leading to unintentional rule breaking.”

Co-author Dr Dienes, a clinical and health psychologist, said: “A significant finding in our research was learned helplessness. This is a psychological state where people give up trying to achieve something because they come to feel powerless. Normally, this means giving up a certain health behaviour, like admitting defeat when trying to quit smoking or stick to a diet. In this case, learned helplessness happened for some people who gave up trying to follow rules they either couldn’t understand or felt weren’t working”.

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The research was led by Dr Simon Williams, Senior Lecturer in People and Organisation at Swansea University, in collaboration with Dr Kimberly Dienes, Lecturer in Clinical and Health Psychology at Swansea University, Professor Christopher Armitage of Manchester University’s Centre for Health Psychology, and Dr Tova Tampe, an independent consultant. 

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Coronavirus

Face coverings retained in health and social care settings

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will remain in place.

Speaking after the latest three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said the public health situation was improving following the recent spike in cases caused by the BA.2 sub-type of omicron.

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But Covid case rates remain high so maintaining the use of face coverings in health and care settings will help to protect to some of the most vulnerable people in society, staff and visitors.

The First Minister also urged everyone to continue to take measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus by following a set of simple steps to protect one another and keep Wales safe.

These include self-isolating if ill or testing positive for Covid-19; wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places, meeting outdoors wherever possible; keeping indoor areas well ventilated and washing hands regularly.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic isn’t over but we are seeing encouraging signs the recent high levels of infections across Wales are falling.

“There are steps we can all take to protect ourselves while coronavirus is still circulating and reduce the spread of the virus even further. This is particularly true in places where some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated and live, which is why we will retain the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

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“More generally, ensuring you are up-to-date with your Covid vaccinations and spring booster – if you are eligible – is really important. If you have Covid symptoms or test positive, please stay at home and help break the chain of transmission.

“Together, we can carry on keeping each other safe and keeping Wales safe.”

The next three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 26 May.

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Coronavirus

Schools’ Covid guidance aligned to businesses and other workplaces

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced that Covid-19 measures for schools in Wales will be brought into line with guidance for businesses and other organisations.

The Welsh Government has written to schools in Wales this morning to inform them of the changes.

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Since September last year, schools have applied measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus according to local circumstances, based on the Local Covid-19 infection control decision framework for schools. Schools will no longer be advised to use the framework.

The change is in line with the Welsh Government’s long-term Covid-19 transition from pandemic to endemic. The risk from coronavirus is now considered in the same context as other communicable diseases, such as flu.

The First Minister has announced that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will be removed from 9 May, if the public health situation remained stable. The changes to the guidance for schools will also come into effect from 9 May.

Schools and other education settings will continue to be advised to work with local authorities and public health advisors to ensure that measures remain appropriate and proportionate and reflect local risks and circumstances.

A checklist will be provided to support schools and settings in considering which control measures remain proportionate. Special schools will continue to follow the advice for children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults.

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Speaking at the Welsh Government’s weekly press briefing, Jeremy Miles said: “In line with the wider public health guidance published at the last three-week review, we have today written to headteachers to signpost the impending changes to our advice for schools, which reflect the move from pandemic to endemic. This will ensure school guidance is more closely aligned with the rest of society.

“We all know that Covid-19 has not gone way. It remains vitally important we reduce the spread of the virus where we can – this includes, for example, following self-isolation guidance, and for education settings to continue to undertake robust risk assessments.”

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Coronavirus

Health board extends shuttle bus between Llanelli and COVID vaccination centre

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Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi, will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week – with no service at 12.00pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

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People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court.

The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On 21 February 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

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Strict COVID-19 safety measures are in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service, including wearing face coverings unless medically exempt.

A maximum of 14 passengers are allowed per journey with a screen in place between driver and passengers.

The health board say that passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day.

They add that before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, people should check the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times.

(Lead image: Hywel Dda NHS)

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