Government warned people are ‘far less likely’ to follow new lockdown rules

People are far less likely to follow new coronavirus restrictions as strictly as they did at the start of the pandemic, according to an expert in behavioural science.

Months of feelings of distrust and unfairness have eroded the communal spirit felt across the country back in March, Dr Nilu Ahmed has said.

‘Vague rules and inconsistent messages’ have led to people ignoring the official guidelines and choosing to do whatever they think is right, she said.

It means measures like the ‘rule of six’ and localised bans on visiting other households are less likely to be followed, compared with the high levels of compliance seen when lockdown was announced exactly six months ago today.

While predicting that people would eventually bond together again in the event of another lengthy full lockdown, the University of Bristol lecturer said she expects to see the ‘same cycle’ repeating itself, including people stockpiling goods as the second wave takes hold.

‘It is very important to us as humans that we have a sense of order and routine and we know what is coming’, she said.

‘Before, what we saw was a blanket lockdown. It was very clear what people could and couldn’t do. Since then we’ve had a series of different rules in different places and it’s made us feel very confused and there’s been lots of discontent.

‘People have watched others break the rules and not be penalised. It’s made them feel like they are the only ones doing what they are told. It’s really important for us to have a sense of what is right and wrong.

‘As we enter this new set of restrictions, that’s built up a lot of suspicion and distrust – which is the opposite of what we had last time around.’

The Government showed signs it was concerned about the levels of compliance with the new restrictions when they were announced yesterday.

The package of measures came with plans to beef up the ability of the police to ensure people are following the rules.

Fines for not wearing a face mask and breaking the ‘rule of six’ have been increased and more resources have been promised for over-stretched forces while the army will be placed on stand-by to help.

It was also the central message of the Prime Minister’s televised speech at 8pm, in which he said rule breaches were the reason why he’s having to introduce more restrictions. 

Dr Ahmed said studies show a ‘very definite shift’ in people’s willingness to obey all the rules after high profile people in authority didn’t stick to them. 

‘I don’t think we will see the same level of compliance we saw the first time around,’ she said. ‘Back in March, there was a real sense of community endeavour and people were looking out for their neighbours. I don’t think we will see that again as we head into these new restrictions.

‘People won’t have the same level of buy-in because of the sense of unfairness that has been built up. There’s only so much the police can do and it relies on trust and people singing from the same hymn sheet. There was a very definite shift when people in authority were seen as not following the rules.’

The warning will worry the Government which needs vast numbers of the population to buy-in to the new measures, if they are to be successful in reducing the spiraling number of cases.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said: ‘These rules, these measures will only work if people comply. There is nothing more frustrating for the vast majority who do comply, the law-abiding majority, than the sight of a few brazenly defying the rules. So these rules will be enforced by tighter penalties.’

He went on to warn that if people don’t follow the rules, then stricter measures will follow, including a potentially economically devastating second lockdown.