Herd mentality and conspiracy theories play a role in public lack of compliance
We have been told of the grim warnings for months but many people across Northern Ireland continue to ignore the Covid-19 regulations.
Following the two week circuit-breaker lockdown, Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said the country is not where it should be after a rise in positive tests in the build up to Christmas.
Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young added that people failed to follow the guidelines and simply did not stay at home during the brief lockdown.
Queues at shops continue to sprawl, house parties carry on and basic hygiene controls aren’t being adhered to.
From virus complacency to sheer selfishness, why is a large minority continuing to ignore the guidelines which are designed to keep people safe?
Speaking during yesterday’s Covid-19 briefing, Health Minister Robin Swann said there will be “a big ask” for the people of Northern Ireland to follow the restrictions and do what the health service needs them to do.
We’re pack animals at the end of the day.Professor Siobhan O’Neill
Professor Siobhan O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s interim Mental Health Champion, explained that human beings use cognitive congruence to find reasons to go out and socialise, even though we know it is against the regulations.
She added that the conspiracy theories out there around Covid-19 also make it much easier to come up with an excuse to ignore the guidelines.
“There’s also the herd mentality,” said Professor O’Neill. “If you’re part of a group of people and they’re all doing something then it almost feels like you’re the odd one out if you’re not doing the same thing.
“When you’re out and about and you see other people not adhering to social distancing and not wearing a mask it can start to give you the sense that they’re on to something and that’s okay.
“We’re pack animals at the end of the day and it’s why staying apart is so difficult for us but also, we look to the other members of the pack to give us our queues as to what we should do.
“Of course, the members of the pack staying inside - we don’t see them.
“I know many people who are being very safe right now. We need to remember that the majority of people are adhering to the restrictions.”
West Belfast GP Dr George O’Neill believes there is no single answer as to why the regulations are continually being broken.
He warned that with just over a week to Christmas Day, people who plan to see their loved ones should consider isolating themselves to make sure they are not carrying the virus.
“It appears the two week lockdown has made very little difference,” said Dr O’Neill.
You don’t want to be bringing the virus as a Christmas present.Dr George O'Neill
“I think there is a great deal of complacency in that people have just accepted that this is the new normal.
“You need to start taking steps now to make sure you don’t bring something, other than the normal Christmas presents, on Christmas Day.
“You don’t want to be bringing the virus as a Christmas present to your elderly, frail, ill or shielding relatives.”
Pam Cameron, the vice chair of Stormont’s Health Committee, said that people have become “fatigued and weary” with the subject of Covid-19.
The South Antrim MLA stressed that the virus is no less deadly and encouraged everyone to have a smaller and safer Christmas.
“It would be naive to ignore the changes in behaviour over recent weeks and months,” she said.
“Alongside a need to restate the health advice it is particularly important at this time of year that people are offered hope.
“We all have a part to play and we can all help keep ourselves, our friends and our family safe.”
The Health Minister Robin Swann is set to recommend a series of “crucial interventions” to the NI Executive when it meets on Thursday after warning the threat of Covid will ”cast a shadow well into January.”