The vast majority of people are washing their hands regularly — but we need to do more.
The battle with the novel coronavirus is shaping up to be a lengthy one, where social action is key. The social action that experts are recommended is a rather unusual one: social distancing. Simply put, we are dealing with a highly contagious virus, and the best thing we can do is to reduce its spread as much as we possible — especially if we want to
The UK has quietly distanced from its original “herd immunity” strategy and started implementing the suppression methods we are seeing in most parts of the world. But it lost valuable time, and the mixed messages sent to the population seem to take a toll.
A report from the Imperial College London COVID-19 response team based on a survey of 2,108 UK adults on 17-18 March found that although most people are worried, they are still not taking necessary precautions.
Here are the main findings:
77% reported being worried about the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK.
48% of adults who have not tested positive for COVID-19 believe it is likely they will be infected at some point in the future.
93% of adults reported personally taking at least one measure to protect themselves from COVID-19 infection, including:
83% of adults washed their hands more frequently;
52% avoided crowded areas;
50% avoided social events;
36% avoided public transport;
31% avoided going out;
11% avoided going to work;
28% avoided travel to areas outside the UK.
It’s concerning that only half avoided social events and crowded areas, two key elements of social distancing.
But there are also positive findings. Most people reported a willingness to self-isolate for 7 days, if advised to do so by a health professional (88% said they would do so). Almost half (44%) of all Brits are also capable of working from home, which is a significant percentage. Of course, many people can’t work from home due to the nature of their work, but it’s important that those who can do this actually do it.
Concerningly, however, people in the lower-income bracket are largely unable to do so. Dr. Leigh Bowman, Teaching Fellow at Imperial’s School of Public Health, explains:
“These figures show that while the UK public is willing to self-isolate, 78% of people in lower social grades state they cannot work from home. So if they do become unwell, they may have to choose between taking (un)paid leave or working for as long as they can, which would increase the risk to those around them. Therefore we welcome the news by the Government to support the entire labour market, regardless of social grade.”
Most people (71%) also said that they are changing their behavior to follow government guidance, but this percentage was lower for young adults (53% for people aged 18-24).
“The survey shows that most people are listening to government advice on handwashing, and indicate a willingness to self-isolate if needed. However, people were less convinced about the effectiveness of social distancing measures, and fewer were acting on these,” said Professor Helen Ward of J-IDEA at Imperial College London, who led the research with Imperial’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis (MRC GIDA).
It’s important to note that a self-isolation period of 7 days is, judging by all the indicators, vastly insufficient. We are, almost certainly, talking about a period of months in which we will have to stay as socially distanced as possible.
This will be economically challenging, but the priority right now is health — preventing the virus from spreading and saving lives. If government can step up and protect the most vulnerable ones, we have the capacity to get over this, together.
Rozlyn Redd, a Research Associate at Imperial, concluded:
“Given the finding that service and manual sector workers’ cannot work from home but are willing to self-isolate, the new government measures to replace wages should significantly increase people’s capacity to social distance and self- isolate and therefore reduce the transmission of COVID19.”
The figures are certainly different for different parts of the world, but these are common themes faced by all countries. Government action is essential, but all of us need to help. This is a major health crisis — it’s time to pull all the stops.