In the early stages of the pandemic, many of us were struck by the outpouring of social solidarity that united communities across the country. We came together on a Thursday evening to clap for the NHS, set up WhatsApp groups to keep in touch with our neighbours and organised grocery trips to help those who were shielding. It was a salutary reminder that there’s nothing like a crisis to bring people together.
Sadly it’s difficult to detect similar sentiment reflected in data released last month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on public compliance with the COVID guidelines. ONS found that only 18% of people self-isolate after developing symptoms, while only 11% quarantine after being told by NHS Test and Trace that they have been in contact with a confirmed case.
The (rather depressing) logical conclusion is that it doesn’t matter how much the capacity and availability of testing is increased or how much the contact-tracing system is improved if people are simply going to ignore the instructions.
Among the reasons for not following the guidance, researchers found that while the intention to adhere to test, trace and isolate is high, self-reported compliance is low. The situation is not helped by the complexity of the latest advice, which differs according to local circumstance and stands in stark contrast to the initial message to ‘stay home, save lives, protect the NHS’.
There are other factors too – a misplaced sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, that self-isolating will make little difference to the situation overall and, for those who are self-employed or working in insecure roles, a reality that missing work means forfeiting pay.
As infection rates climb, I suspect compliance with guidance will also increase. For councils, already under financial and demand pressures, the public’s reluctance to follow confusing instructions risks making a difficult job more challenging.
Short-term this means co-ordinating responses to a deeper public health crisis. Long-term it involves grappling with the long tail of the pandemic – unemployment, household poverty, mental ill health and the economic regeneration of towns and cities. That can only be done with agile working, the skills to continue providing system leadership and sufficient resources.
Claire Kober is managing director homes at Pinnacle Group