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expert reaction to new public information campaign from UK government to prevent spread of COVID-19 indoors this winter

The government have announced a new public information campaign to prevent spread of COVID-19 indoors this winter.

 

Dr Jennifer Cole, Biological Anthropologist, Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

“Launching a campaign with not only a message but also a video behind it that explains the science is extremely useful, as it not only tells people what to do but also why that behaviour is necessary. This aids understanding of what situations are likely to be higher and less-high risk, which will help to prevent people from becoming over-anxious in relatively low-risk situations.

“I would question, however, the order the recommendations have been placed in, which seem to be in reverse order to their importance. ‘Space’ is the largest mitigating factor in the spread of COVID-19, indoors or outdoors – if you can stay 2m away, do so. Wearing a face-covering does not make it entirely safe to go within 2m of others; keeping your distance (‘Space’) is still the best strategy. Hand-washing is important, but surface transmission plays a much smaller role than exhaled droplets, so it is odd that ‘Hands’ has been listed first and could lead to unnecessary concern over the likelihood of surface transmission from groceries, mail and other deliveries, etc. The campaign needs to make clear that all three of ‘Hands. Face. Space.’ are factors in preventing spread and the listing does not reflect their relative efficacy, as this could lead to people abandoning the most effective action – ‘Space’ – in favour of one, or both, of the other two.

“A key message to stress is that ‘Hands’ and ‘Face’ increase in efficacy indoors relative to their value in outdoor settings, but that ‘Space’ still trumps both. If social distancing is difficult in an indoor setting, people should question whether going into that indoor setting is absolutely necessary, not just assume that a face covering and washing their hands will protect them if they do. The additional messaging needs to be careful to stress that these are a suite of actions that work best when used together, not in isolation.”

 

Prof Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Public information campaigns can make an important contribution to behaviour change at the population level. Decades of evidence from tobacco control in particular demonstrates this, with the latest evidence published just this week on reductions in childhood asthma admissions to hospital following a ‘smoke-free homes’ mass media campaign. Even in the COVID-19 context, we have evidence from Germany that encouraging face coverings with a mass media campaign in a progressive locality (where they were introduced ahead of other areas) can help.

“This new campaign is welcome, but my question would be why it took so long for one to be launched at scale in England? The Scottish government launched the ‘FACTS’ campaign in mid-June which has similar content. Most weekdays since then, the First Minister of Scotland has consistently ended her media briefings re-iterating these simple public health messages. Sustained, well-resourced, evidence-based public health campaigns are important and I do hope this one will make a difference, even if introduced much later than is ideal.”

 

Dr Shaun Fitzgerald FREng, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge, said:

“I agree with everything in this notice. However, there are a couple of additional things I would add, although asking people to remember just a few basic things is a fantastic start.

“My two extra ones are number one, don’t talk loudly; and crucially number 2, open a window. This last one is very important because we haven’t really had to think about that in warm weather as we will have wanted to get air into our space to keep cool. Now that we enter colder weather, it will be something we will need to think about more proactively.”

 

Prof Ashley Woodcock FMedSci, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester, said:

This is just what is needed. Simple, simple, simple messaging. Repeated.

“One observation – we all have a responsibility to protect the elderly and vulnerable. So when in the presence of the vulnerable, the new ‘Hands. Face. Space’ mantra is doubly important. Don’t touch, kiss or even get close to grandma – preferably, don’t visit.”

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/COVID-19

 

Declared interests

 

None received.

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