Fewer people obeyed Covid rules as lockdown fatigue set in, new study by University of Leeds reveals

Lockdown fatigue could have contributed to a dwindling number of people adhering to the rules, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Leeds used anonymised mobile phone data to assess over one million people’s movements during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Their study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at the visits people made to other homes from March 2020 to May this year.

A customer wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), of a face mask or covering as a precautionary measure against spreading COVID-19, passes a sign advising customers to maintain the British government's social distancing guidelines and stay two metres (2M) apart, as she exits a Waterstones book shop inside a shopping centre in Walthamstow, east London on June 22, 2020. Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

They saw a significant drop-off in visits when the first lockdown was announced.

When the second and third lockdowns were announced, people reduced contacts but to a much lesser extent.

There was a rise in pre-lockdown visits in the five days between when the November lockdown was announced and initiated.

And despite being in a lockdown at the start of this year, household visits rose after the most vulnerable people had been offered their first vaccine in February this year.

People in rural areas were more likely to stick to the rules than people in cities.

The researchers compared household mixing across the pandemic to baseline levels, calculated from average household visits eight weeks before the pandemic began in England by assessing the anonymised mobile data of people who agreed to share information for research purposes.

They observed a 54.4% decrease in household mixing during the first lockdown in March 2020 which gradually increased across 2020 as restrictions were lifted.

Household mixing reduced by 15.28% in the November lockdown while in January they witnessed a 26.22% decrease.

A significant increase in household mixing occurred in mid-February 2021, indicating that people may have been happier to begin socialising after a announcement that the most vulnerable groups had been offered the first dose of a Covid-19 jab.

The authors also suggest that “lockdown fatigue” contributed to higher levels of household mixing in later lockdowns.

Professor Ed Manley, from the University of Leeds, said: “(There was an) immediate effect from the first lockdown in March, where we saw basically levels of visitation plummet.

“And while the first and third lockdown showed quite low reductions in household visitation there were cases of lockdown fatigue creeping in in the second two lockdowns.

“We also saw this large increase in February 2021 as vaccinations rolled out.

He added: “Mid-February marked the point at which the most vulnerable four groups had their first vaccine.

“And it seems to suggest that people started to relax a little bit more, despite the continuing rules in place to prevent indoor mixing, and continue to increase in the amount of mixing.”

They cautioned that the data was not able to differentiate between visits to people’s homes or gardens.

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