By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) – Clear and consistent messaging about lockdown measures, why they are needed, and about the practicalities of social distancing such as food and finances, are crucial to their potential for slowing outbreaks of disease, researchers said on Tuesday.
With hundreds of cities worldwide already using isolation and quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the new coronavirus – and more likely to follow – a study of previous disease outbreaks found that quarantine adherence rates range from 0% to more than 92%, and that clarity is key.
If instructions or language are unclear, then people tend to make up their own rules, the research found, and social pressure from others to comply with quarantine is also important.
“The effectiveness of quarantine depends on how many people do it, so it is important to know what makes people more likely to comply,” said Simon Wessely, a professor of psychological medicine at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, who worked on the research.
“In the era of ‘fake news’, consistent messaging is difficult, but leaving the information needs of the public unmet can be dangerous. Public health teams should provide clear, authoritative information…and then check the messages are getting through.”
Published in the journal Public Health, the research analyzed data from 14 studies from around the world looking at adherence by different groups to quarantines during a range of disease outbreaks including Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the H1N1 flu pandemic and mumps.
If people believed that quarantine was beneficial in controlling the outbreak, and if they also believed the disease itself is risky, then adherence tended to be better – especially if lockdown measures began fairly swiftly to slow the spread of the disease.
Rebecca Webster, who co-led the study, said it showed that because people vary so much in their adherence to quarantine, “public health officials should provide a timely, clear rationale for (it)”.
“Our research also showed that messaging around the benefit…could be influential, as well as ensuring that sufficient supplies of food, medication and other essentials are provided,” she said.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, Editing by William Maclean)