Large rise in social contacts as Covid-19 case number stall

ESRI study also finds growing number of people willing to receive vaccine

Hundreds of thousands of additional contacts between people in the period to early March has coincided with the stalling in the downward trend in Covid-19 cases, new research shows. Image: iStock.

Hundreds of thousands of additional contacts between people in the period to early March has coincided with the stalling in the downward trend in Covid-19 cases, new research shows. Image: iStock.

 

Hundreds of thousands of additional contacts between people in the period to early March has coincided with the stalling in the downward trend in Covid-19 cases, new research shows.

A behavioural study by the Economic Social Research Institute (ESRI) for the Government suggests that a sharp increase in indoor, household visits during the third lockdown has contributed to a spread of the virus again and the plateauing in new infections over recent weeks.

The survey found a general increase in the level of activity again but notably a sharp increase in the number of people who had visitors to their homes or who were visiting other homes. This rose from 19 per cent in late January to 24 per cent in early March, while the number of social visits to households increased from 5 per cent to 11.5 per cent during that period.

The majority of visits involved time spent indoors, generally with the visitor not wearing a mask and most visits lasting more than one hour.

“It may not look like a large jump in percentage terms but that amounts to hundreds of thousands people meeting than before,” said Prof Pete Lunn, head of the behavioural research unit at the ESRI whose research is used by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

‘A lot of meetings’

Prof Lunn estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 additional indoor meetings took place between people over a few weeks in settings that are high risk for the spread of the virus.

“That is a lot of meetings that are happening every day that were not happening every day four to six weeks ago,” he said.

The increased social activity is the most substantial change that has been recorded so far in the four fortnightly rounds of data collected from a sample of 1,000 adults since January.

“The majority are continuing to do what is asked of them. What we are seeing is a change of behaviour in a minority but that minority is placing the majority at risk,” said Prof Lunn.

The survey found a majority of people, 75 per cent, say that preventing the spread of the virus is more important than the burden of restrictions but the minority who disagree has increased.

Responses from people found that the small number who believe that the burden of restrictions is more important are more likely to meet people, engage in a social visit or have a close contact.

The proportion of the population who said that they would get vaccinated jumped from 76 per cent to 82 per cent in a fortnight, though the survey took place before the news reports about concerns over blood clotting in people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some 56 per cent felt during the March 8th survey that restrictions would be eased in April.