People take their face masks off in protest on November 3, 2020 in Venice, Italy.
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LONDON – The key to improving coronavirus health compliance lies in effective communication between policy makers and the wider population, according to infectious disease experts.
It is because, almost eight months after the WHO, several European countries are trying to take new measures to combat the spread of the disease first declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
Countries like the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands have all decided to reintroduce strict health measures as Covid-19 infections continue to rise.
The restrictions imposed by the government have led to violent clashes in the region at times in recent days. It seems to reflect a growing sense of frustration with the governments’ response to the pandemic and given the concerns, the draconian measures are likely to remain in place for some time.
“We have been in place very restrictive measures in many countries for a very long time and we are not seeing them end. We now know that we have to live with this virus more chronically – really in the long term,” said Dr. Olivia Tulloch, CEO of Anthrologica, a leading research-based specialist in applied anthropology in global health.
“And so people feel fatigue, confusion and frustration related to the measures taken against them. People look at the measures that are designed to protect them and they can see that they are beginning to undermine other parts of their existence. “Said Tulloch during a webinar for the Chatham House think tank last month.
“When you find yourself in a place where the messages are changing and inconsistent, or that has been heavily politicized, you see that trust and willingness to comply can be undermined.”
The situation has rekindled a debate about how policy makers can try to reach what are known as Covid “refuseniks” – those who refuse to adhere to public health measures expected of them.
This is because some ignore recommendations from policy makers and the United Nations Health Authority because they believe the measures are an attack on their personal freedom or economic well-being.
To be safe, WHO recommends that people protect themselves and others by wearing a mask, exercising physical distance, ventilating rooms well, avoiding crowds, washing their hands, and following other local advice.
“In the short term, there might have been a real willingness to follow the advice and instructions we had in the earlier days of the pandemic, but that is dwindling because there are other things like access to other social, welfare and health services or Access to families or the ability to make a living, “said Tulloch.
To date, more than 48.7 million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus, with 1.23 million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
A paramedic drives a woman out of an ambulance outside Burgos Hospital in Burgos, Northern Spain, on the first day of a two-week lockdown on October 21, 2020 to limit the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 in the US area.
Cesar Manso | AFP | Getty Images
Dr. David Heymann, who headed WHO’s Infectious Diseases Division during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, identified two key tools for policymakers to ensure that as many people as possible follow the rules: messaging and the tradition of society.
“We have to make sure that those people who feel strongly about an issue are heard … because only through dialogue between a government and its citizens can things get better,” Heymann said during the same webinar event.
“The natural tendency for people is to oppose something they believe violates their personal sphere or rights. Therefore, it is a very difficult task for a government to enter into a social contract when they do so want.” too authoritarian. “
Heymann and Tulloch agreed that a common mistake made by policymakers around the world was to rely too much on data and statistics to emphasize the importance of adhering to the latest public health measures.
“We can use the example that in some cases we have become very familiar with this term, the ‘R’ number, as if this is a concept that everyone should pick up and understand and that we hear all the time,” she said said adding that term “very often” just confuses people.
The so-called “R” numberor rate refers to the number of secondary infections caused, on average, by an infected person, provided there is already no immunity among a population.
Put simply, it gives experts an indication of the extent to which the coronavirus is spreading or reproducing in a population. The higher the reproduction rate, the higher the risk of a virus spreading exponentially.
(L-R) British Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dr. Susan Hopkins of NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England will attend a virtual press conference at 10 Downing Street in central London on October 16, 2020.
EDDIE MULHOLLAND | AFP | Getty Images
“Governments using these kinds of terms are not necessarily doing the best of things to ensure that … people know how to interpret the directions given. If you get the information conveyed wrong, people will lose you lose communities, you lose trust and I think that would be part of that, “said Tulloch.
“We need to use better ways to effectively convey to people that they as individuals have some control, some freedom of choice in this pandemic, and some level of responsibility themselves. The nanny-state approach to this pandemic is in the Pandemic doesn’t really work. ” long term. “
– CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report.