Covid-19: Recurring lockdowns may spark rise in complacency, experts say

RYAN ANDERSON/STUFF
Senior Sergeant Jonathon Chappell said crews at the Auckland-Waikato checkpoint processed the same number of people on Sunday as they did during the last three-day lockdown in total.

Kiwis may become complacent and start to ignore government guidance if lockdowns become more frequent, according to experts.

Auckland moved back into a week-long level 3 lockdown on Sunday after two fresh community cases of Covid-19 were discovered.

But University of Auckland associate professor Susanna Trnka​ says if people no longer feel a sense of urgency they will be less compelled to follow the rules.

A local cluster sent Auckland back into Covid alert level 3 lockdown on Sunday.
DAVID WHITE/STUFF
A local cluster sent Auckland back into Covid alert level 3 lockdown on Sunday.

“During the first lockdown it was understood that extraordinary times require extraordinary measures,” the social anthropologist said.

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“But as it becomes lockdown two, three and four, the sense of the urgency has shifted and isn’t so palpable.”

Senior lecturer Sarah Cowie, who is an expert on psychology and behaviour, said it was “certainly a possibility” that people could become more complacent during recurring lockdowns.

“There’s evidence from places overseas that have been flung in and out of lockdown that people do become a little bit more complacent the more you have,” she said.

“If we are doing things in line with level 3 and not seeing the benefits of that, it might feel discouraging.”

27022021 Photo: ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield hold the Ministry of Health briefing the day after Auckland moved back to Alert level 3 and the rest of the country level 2. COVID -19
Ross Giblin/Stuff
27022021 Photo: ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield hold the Ministry of Health briefing the day after Auckland moved back to Alert level 3 and the rest of the country level 2. COVID -19

University of Auckland associate professor of sociology Steve Matthewman said the latest Covid-19 lockdown also showed the risks of complacency.

“Because a 21-year-old wanted to go to the gym, now every school and most businesses are locked down, and major events have been cancelled,” he said.

“I think we can see very clearly there are serious consequences to this, and most people most of the time obey the rules and don’t want to cause trouble.”

Trnka penned a paper in the Royal Society of New Zealand in January about people’s experiences in the first Covid-19 lockdown.

“What we found was that the decision-making people engaged in wasn’t just about being compliant or following the rules,” she said.

“It was really the ‘why’ that people were invested in.”

Trnka said with the latest lockdown the government may struggle to communicate the message of urgency.

“It is hard to do when we were in a lockdown, then came out of it, and now have gone right back into it in less than two weeks’ time,” she said.

“Which isn't a criticism of that decision, but it’s an effect of that.”'

It is up to the government, media, and society at large to convey the importance of following lockdown regulations, so people feel compelled to act, Trnka said.

Mathewman said messaging and support were the best methods to combat lockdown complacency.

“I don’t think we police our way out of this, and use the thin blue line,” he said.

“If we have strong messaging, support like the wage subsidy, and good mental health support then we really take out most of the reasons to break the rules.”

Cowie said the economic impacts of a lockdown could drive people to break the rules, and this could be mitigated through financial support from government.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the week-long lockdown, she pleaded with New Zealanders to “please follow the rules”.