Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that tighter restrictions on social gatherings will be enforced on those in the north-east of England today, after a spike in coronavirus cases. This followed the new “rule of six” limitation, which was recently announced to limit the number of people who can congregate together. Earlier this month, Mr Hancock warned that if young people did not follow restrictions then a second wave could occur, which would risk the UK’s second national lockdown. It followed a third of all COVID-19 cases being confirmed from the 20 to 29 age bracket. But in a warning to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Stephen Reicher, a professor of social psychology, claimed that “playing a blame game” would not be effective and could lead to dangerous results.
Professor Reicher disputed beliefs behind the rise in cases for young people and claimed that 70 percent of them approved of the “rule of six” plan while others wanted tighter restrictions.
He claimed the spike in positive tests for this age group might not be because of “partying” and “pubbing” as suggested, but because of their exposure to a greater number of people.
The University of St Andrews lecturer pointed out that young people were more likely to use public transport, have public facing jobs and live in multiple occupancy housing – which could increase their risk.
He continued: “There are some young people who are doing things they should not do but to generalise and stereotype and say ‘young people are the problem’ and to perpetuate the stereotype of young people as ‘feckless’ and… ‘partying and drinking’ is actually not true.
“Given that young people are least likely to suffer seriously from the disease, the point is that most of them locked down for the sake of the community and acted selflessly.
“They acted for the sake of others, so it’s rather rich now to turn around and say: ‘You’re the problem.’”
Professor Reicher deemed a blame game “profoundly counterproductive” and claimed it risked that “bad group” ignoring the Government.
He also warned that to claim a group was not following rules would likely encourage others to disobey as it “tells people the norm… is to misbehave”.
This feeling could then ripple into other age groups, he told the Guardian podcast ‘Today in Focus’, which aired on September 15.
He continued: “People begin to say, ‘If everybody else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?’
“So in all sorts of ways this messaging is bad in the sense of getting increased adherence of young people and bad in getting adherence in everybody else.”
Professor Reicher felt that the public’s reaction to lockdown had shattered previous beliefs that human beings were frail and would crack or panic during a crisis.
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He continued: “What we’ve seen instead is the resilience of the public when we come together collectively, it shows what people can achieve with a sense of shared identity.
“[It shows] how important it is then that the Government don’t treat the public as the problem in a crisis but treat them as the solution – that will lead to the most positive outcomes.”
Professor Reicher added that maintaining support in the Government was vital when dealing with coronavirus – as, without it, overcoming the pandemic can be even harder.
He said: “Lower trust in the Government leads people to be less confident in giving information which they think will go to the Government.
“So trust is connected to people’s willingness to give their contacts in the [NHS] Test and Trace system.
“When it comes to a vaccine their trust is going to be really important because for people to get vaccinated they have to trust the Government and they have to trust scientists that this is for their own good.”