Professor John Drury, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), would like to absolve you of all responsibility when it comes to the spread of coronavirus and shift the blame anywhere else instead.
Drury’s main concern is the vilification of groups within society, which is hugely divisive and was a prevalent issue before the pandemic kicked off. Now it’s easy to see who’s ‘following the rules’ and who isn’t, and to use that to club people over the head with. He says that “government evidence” demonstrates “widespread adherence” to the measure rolled out to tamp down the virus’ spread, although is this is the same evidence being used to forge ahead with reopening the economy, then I imagine a positive response is exactly what it would show. Telling everyone it’s no longer practical or affordable to pay for them to stay at home isn’t going to be as well-received as “we’re all doing a stellar job chaps, so let’s get back to normal.” Let’s not forget the COVID-19 Alert Level hasn’t actually changed since the start of lockdown.
Drury goes on to cite surveys that show people aren’t as stringent about sticking to lockdown measures anymore (via The Guardian), and says that’s down to a lack of confidence in the government and not at all for selfish reasons like wanting to hang out with friends and family, or just not giving a toss anymore because they’re young and the thought that the measures are their to protect other, vulnerable people haven’t even crossed their mind. He blames politicians and the media for misrepresenting public behaviour, and expands on that notion in a paper published in the British Journal of Social Psychology. The real culprits are under-reaction, systemic factors, and mismanagement.
He readily calls out the government for dragging its feet on implementing a lockdown (under-reaction) and suggests mismanagement could also have played a part in that. The systemic factor comes in with the wave of panic buying that Drury said government ministers called out as ‘selfish’ which ‘psychologised’ the problem. Apparently panic buying isn’t selfish, based on data derived from a sample of 100,000 people with the parameters of what constitutes ‘selfish behaviour’ defined by the group conducting the study. Having looked at the summary, I’d say doing more frequent shops and buying extra shit you don’t need while the media is highlighting panic buying, empty shelves, and vulnerable people being left with no food is somewhere in that region, but that’s being dismissed outright.
I’d also say that as soon as the government relayed its message about the lockdown and social distancing – as late as it may have been compared to other parts of the world – the responsibility then sat with the public to get on board and adhere to the new measures. But the notion of personal responsibility doesn’t seem to exist for Drury either who’s keen to recognise complacency in the government, but make excuses for it when it comes to the general public.
Anecdotally, there is no social distancing going on where I live. Friends of friends are having guests over in their homes, the household mingling rules are being ignored – it’s a free for all. It very much echoes the images we’ve seen of people flocking to parks and beaches in droves, and the complete lack of understanding of simple rules that have people thinking they can hang out with extended family because they can’t differentiate between a ‘household’ and being related to people who don’t live in the same house as they do. In his paper, Drury and his colleagues adds:
“Despite media campaigns to vilify some people as selfish and thoughtless ‘covidiots’, the evidence on reasons for non-adherence shows that much of it was practical rather than psychological.”
He says crowded cities resulted in people being forced to attend crowded parks, or the fact that people have to return to work and use crowded public transport. On his first point, there were countries that banned exercising outdoors altogether; there are alternatives to going outdoors for exercise and it certainly doesn’t have to take place in a park. Before masks were made mandatory for public transport, people chose not to wear them, and crammed themselves onto buses with no thought for anyone else or themselves. Should the operators of those services have actually enforced social distancing? Yes. They did a piss poor job by the looks of things – but does that mean that every bugger who swanned around without a mask on while in close proximity to other commuters is blameless as a result? Of course not.
It’s certainly become the case that adherence to guidelines is a new way to divide people, especially with the website set up for tattling on people , but to combat that by saying the public isn’t at fault at all is disingenuous, especially when there seems to be a bias at play. Drury concludes:
“Public behaviour is key, but public behaviour is always mediated by government actions, government messaging and how people interpret those.”
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