Northern Ireland news

Carrot and stick approach suggested to ensure Covid restriction compliance

A government modelling paper looks at alternatives to lockdown measures. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A carrot and stick approach is being suggested to encourage young people and those from socially deprived communities to abide by Covid restrictions.

While Edwin Poots has been widely criticised for comments suggestions infections are worse in nationalist areas, there is data to show that areas with higher economic deprivation have been harder hit.

The same has been true for working class areas in the north of England and the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community.

A modelling report used by the north's Department of Health and circulated to ministers prior to the announcement last week of a four-week circuit breaker suggested both "enforcement" and "appropriate incentives" to encourage greater compliance through the winter months.

This includes larger fines, which were recently introduced, for failure to comply with legislation around masks and large gatherings.

It also includes a test and trace support payment for those on low incomes forced to self isolate, introduced in England in September but yet to be available in Northern Ireland.

The report states: "Available evidence shows that compliance with all aspects of existing restrictions is declining, particularly in younger segments of the population and those from lower social classes.

"There are likely to be multiple reasons for this, but in particular younger people do not perceive themselves to be at significant risk of adverse outcomes if they are infected and perceive the restrictions as placing overly onerous demands on their lives.

"UK evidence suggests that compliance with advice by TTP (Trace, Test, Protect) to self-isolate is relatively poor, and there is little reason to believe that adherence is better in NI.

"Ensuring good compliance with restrictions over the next six months should be a key objective, and communication, enforcement, co-production and use of appropriate incentives are all likely to play a role in this."

The paper also looks at other possible scenarios to lockdown measures, including increased hospital capacity and shielding the elderly and vulnerable.

However, it concludes: "Measures to increase hospital capacity would allow an increased epidemic level to be managed, but this would inevitably be associated with increased deaths and might be limited by the need of staff to self-isolate if infected or contacts."

It adds that "Intensive efforts to ensure shielding of the elderly and vulnerable could reduce pressures on the hospital system" but "this would require considerable sacrifice on the part of those shielding and those protecting them over at least a six month period".

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