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Coronavirus: Lockdown ‘must become the social norm’

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To persuade the majority to continue to comply with the lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, it must become the only “socially acceptable norm”, a King’s College London study suggests.

“Social pressure from others” had an important role to play, lead researcher Dr Rebecca Webster told BBC News.

But this was not a reason for public shaming of others on social media.

And ensuring people had enough food, medical supplies and money to pay the bills was even more important.

“That’s what we’re seeing the government doing at the moment – working with supermarkets to make sure people aren’t going without and with NHS volunteers to make sure medicines are delivered,” Dr Webster said.

The study, published online in the journal Public Health, is based on 14 analyses of how different groups of people adhered to quarantine rules during disease outbreaks, including Ebola, Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), swine flu and mumps.

The researchers found “up-to-date, clear information was the key to getting people to adhere to the guidelines”.

“If instructions or language are unclear, then people tend to make up their own rules,” Dr Webster said.

“We need positive stories about the benefits of what we’re being asked to do.

“It reinforces that this is the new normal – that everyone needs to get behind it in order for it to work.

“We’ll have to wait to see the real impacts on infection rates but those positive social messages come from some of the community spirit we’re seeing in videos people are posting – singing from balconies and other displays of this community spirit.

“We all need to step up and do our bit, and I think the general public is doing quite a good job of that already.

“There will always be some people who don’t follow the rules. We just have to do our best.”

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Meanwhile, Prof George Milne, from the University of Western Australia, told BBC News turning the mathematical models that informed the restrictions into “clear, simple messages” was not simple “but it’s so important”.

Prof Milne’s own modelling work has shown the effects social distancing can have on infection rates.

“It’s all very well a politician or scientists saying, ‘Our modelling shows…,’ but very few people know what modelling actually means,” he said.

“People not familiar with epidemic curves might not really understand what ‘flattening the curve’ means.”

Leaders and experts should talk more about “people and the lives that will be lost”, Prof Milne said.

“Some might be thinking, ‘Well, I might just get a dose of something flu-like and I’ll be fine.’

“We need to make it clear that this curve we’re talking about relates to the number of people who will die if we don’t act.”

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