Covid-19 research finds many falsely believe they are fully compliant with rules

Government study conducted in collaboration with ESRI will feed into plans to reopen, official says

New research on the public’s activity and behaviour during the current Level 5 restrictions indicates that some people who believe they are in compliance with the rules still have “a lot of discretionary contacts”.

The research – the Social Activity Measure (SAM) – is being conducted in collaboration with the ESRI's Behavioural Research Unit and it will feed into plans to reopen the country, according to senior Government official Liz Canavan.

The Government is working on a revised Living with Covid plan and it has been well flagged that planning for easing restrictions will be cautious and conservative.

Ms Canavan, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, said the anonymous, online survey is collecting data from 1,000 people per week about their recent activity.


She said: “The study offers insight into where and how risks of transmission arise and will inform policy and communications regarding the opening of parts of the economy and society, while keeping Covid-19 under control.”

Ms Canavan said the first results from the research will be published this week.

She said that the initial findings indicate that the vast majority of us are keeping contacts low but there are still some people with “a lot of discretionary contacts”.

“Interestingly, some of those people think they are doing better that most people in complying. But they’re not. If you are one of these people and you think what you are doing is the ‘norm’, maybe think again,” she said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin launched the SAM initiative Wednesday morning saying that as the vaccination programme ramps up “we continue to rely on our behaviour as the best defence against contracting and spreading Covid-19”.

He said the research will play an important part in helping the public to understand more fully how restrictions affect our behaviour, “ensuring that data and insight is the foundation for all of our policy decisions and communications approaches”.

Mr Martin said the study will complement other data sources such as the Amárach Public Opinion survey.

The latest poll from Amárach Public Opinion shows that 86 per cent of people say they will definitely or probably get a Covid-19 vaccine.

Ms Canavan said: “This demand and confidence is growing and is a very positive statistic.”

Just 3 per cent said they definitely would not get the vaccine, 4 per cent said they probably would not and 7 per cent said they did not know.

People who are over-85 began getting vaccinated this week. In total 1.7 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated so far and Ms Canavan said Ireland is progressing well compared to other EU countries.

She also renewed advice that face-coverings must be worn correctly which means covering both the nose and mouth snugly.

Ms Canavan said some reports suggest double-masking or wearing medical grade face coverings.

She said: “Intuitively the more layers you have the better, but ultimately if you’re not wearing the mask properly, you’re not protecting yourself to any better extent.

“While double masking is certainly not discouraged, it is more important to wear a mask correctly and that it fits correctly.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times