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Study reveals factors affecting public attitude towards Covid and the new normal

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female freelancer in face mask working on laptop at home

Partygate, a lack of media coverage and the perception that the virus is now milder could all affect future compliance with Covid guidance.

New Swansea University research has revealed that though many people feel life is now back to normal, a minority are still socially distancing and feel like they have been reconditioned to be more cautious. 

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The study, by Dr Simon Williams and Dr Kimberly Dienes of the School of Psychology, explored people’s current behaviours around Covid-19, including mask wearing, social distancing, testing and isolation. 

It also looked at people’s views on future booster jabs, including whether they felt they would want one.  The study went on to ask if they were likely to follow rules or guidance if another variant emerged this autumn.

It found most people were willing to take steps in future to reduce passing on Covid or other viruses, however a number felt they would only distance or wear masks if the situation was “serious” and “people started dying again”.  Many felt that the Partygate and other controversies over political figures breaking Covid rules would affect compliance with future rules.

The study has been published by PsyArXiv , a site used by researchers to share new findings on timely issues before they have been peer-reviewed for publication in a journal.

It found a lack of media coverage of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis were big factors in why people felt they weren’t thinking about Covid as much.

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There was a common perception that new Omicron variants are milder than previous variants, which has reduced concern, with the use of face masks having been de-normalised.

The study found that people’s willingness to test is high.  However, knowing when to test, and willingness to buy tests was variable.

The desire to protect the NHS did not feature at all as a motivation to take actions to reduce transmission; and,

There was a modest appetite for future booster jabs among those who had been triple-jabbed.  However, a number suggested they would only be likely have a further booster if officially recommended or invited.

The research involved online focus groups with 28 participants between 15th and 30th June 2022.

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Dr Williams said: “Our study shows that many people feel as though things have returned to normal, and they haven’t been thinking about Covid much, if at all, recently.  This is understandable – it’s been a hard two years and people are entitled to enjoy the relative freedoms, compared to earlier in the pandemic. 

“However, it is also concerning, as we are currently in the middle of one wave, with new variants and new waves likely to emerge in autumn and winter.  The challenge is to find a more balanced, sustainable way forward, where we can keep some protective behaviours, while looking to governments and organisations to provide broader supports – like good ventilation, hybrid working, free testing, and better sick pay.

“Our study has a number of implications.  It’s important to provide adequate risk communication.  It’s important not to unduly worry people about the pandemic, but similarly it’s important that people are aware of the ongoing impacts.  The lack of recent media coverage, and the way some in Government have been taking about ‘living with the virus’ in ‘post-pandemic’ UK, may have provided too much of a false sense of security.

“Finally, trust has been shown to play a big role in how motivated people are to follow guidance and rules.  Partygate has severely dented many people’s confidence in Government’s handling of the pandemic, as well, potentially their willingness to do things like wear masks or socially distance in the future, if required. 

“There are some worrying signs that in the future, if further guidance or even rules come back into play, people may not be as willing to comply, which of course will have impacts on transmissions, hospitalisations and ultimately NHS capacity.”

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