Intentional and unintentional non-adherence to social distancing measures during COVID-19: a mixed-methods analysis

Eraso, Yolanda and Hills, Stephen (2021) Intentional and unintentional non-adherence to social distancing measures during COVID-19: a mixed-methods analysis. PLOS ONE, 16 (8). pp. 1-29. ISSN 1932-6203


Social distancing measures implemented by governments worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic have proven an effective intervention to control the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. There is a growing literature on predictors of adherence behaviours to social distancing measures, however, there are no comprehensive insights into the nature and types of non-adherence behaviours. To address this gap in the literature, we studied non-adherence in terms of counts of infringements and people’s accounts on their behaviours in a sample of North London residents. We focused on the following social distancing rules: keeping 2 mts. distancing, meeting family and friends, and going out for non-essential reasons. A mixed-methods explanatory sequential design was used comprising an online survey (May 1–31, 2020) followed by semi-structured in-depth interviews held with a purposive sample of survey respondents (August 5 –September 21, 2020). A negative binomial regression model (quantitative) and Framework Analysis (qualitative) were undertaken.681 individuals completed the survey, and 30 individuals were interviewed. We integrated survey and interview findings following three levels of the Social Ecological model: individual, interpersonal and community levels. We identified non-adherence behaviours as unintentional (barriers beyond individual’s control) and intentional (deliberate decision). Unintentional adherence was reported by interviewees as, lack of controllability in keeping 2 mts. distancing, environmental constraints, social responsibility towards the community and feeling low risk. Intentional non-adherence was statistically associated with and reported as lack of trust in Government, support from friends, and lack of knowledge about rules. In addition, interviewees reported individual risk assessment and decision making on the extent to following the rules, and perceived lack of adherence in the local area. Our findings indicate that unintentional and intentional non-adherence should be improved by Government partnerships with local communities to build trust in social distancing measures; tailored messaging to young adults emphasising the need of protecting others whilst clarifying the risk of transmission; and ensuring COVID-secured environments by working with environmental health officers.

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