Just 13 per cent of people in England claim they ‘fully understand’ the current Covid-19 lockdown rules, a study has shown.
That falls to only five per cent of people under 30 in England and Wales, according to the ongoing University College London (UCL) Covid-19 Social Study.
Researchers questioned more than 14,500 people in the UK about their knowledge of the rules in all four nations at the start of autumn and after the rule of six was introduced.
But it was before England went into a tiered system imposing different restriction levels on various parts of the country, and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland took decisions to use ‘circuit breakers’.
Since then, experts think people will have become even more confused about which restrictions apply to them and blame the Government’s lack of clear messaging.
How many people understood the Covid-19 restrictions in England now (51 per cent) compared to during lockdown (90 per cent for the UK generally)
How restrictions are different across England and Wales. Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry and Slough will be in Tier 3 from Sunday morning
The latest wave of responses came from a survey over four weeks ending on October 18.
The results show only 51 per cent of people in England felt they understand the ‘majority’ of rules, with just 13 per cent ‘fully understanding’ them.
People in England are more confused than in both Wales and Scotland, where 15 per cent of people ‘fully understand’ the rules.
Some 62 per cent and 66 per cent understand ‘the majority’ of the rules in Wales and Scotland, respectively.
WHAT ARE THE COVID-19 RULES IN EACH COUNTRY?
The Prime Minister introduced a three-tier system of lockdown measures on October 12.
It followed the ‘rule of six’ announced on September 12, banning people across the UK from meeting in groups of more than six, and a 10pm curfew in pubs on September 24.
These rules are the only ones in Tier 1, which most of England is under.
Tier 2 includes London, parts of Essex, parts of the North West in West Yorkshire and the Midlands.
Tier 2 restrictions mean people are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor settings.
Places in Tier 3 include the whole of Greater Manchester, parts of Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Merseyside. Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry and Slough will be in Tier 3 from Sunday morning.
The restrictions include closures on pubs and bars, but not restaurants, and sometimes gyms and leisure centres.
A circuit breaker came into force in Wales on Friday 23 October. It will remain in place until Monday 9 November, at least.
On September 12, new UK Covid-19 restrictions came into force (the rule of six and 10pm curfew). But Wales did not consider children in the group of six. It also banned alcohol sales after 10pm.
On September 25, new Covid-19 rules came into force banning social mixing in homes.
Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the limits on the number of people who can gather outdoors (six).
Those aged between 12 and 17 are allowed to meet outside in groups of up to six from six different households, but should observe physical distancing.
On October 9, pubs were ordered to close for 16 days in five areas in the central belt: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian, and the Forth Valley health board areas.
In these areas, snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls were closed.
Other parts of Scotland can only serve indoors between 6am and 6pm, and outdoors until 10pm.
The country is due to move to a five-tier system of virus alert levels from 2 November.
Northern Ireland is currently in a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown which was introduced on 16 October and will be in place for four weeks. It means restaurants and pubs can only offer takeaway or delivery.
The health guidance has been updated to say that ‘no unnecessary travel’ should be undertaken.
All schools closed on October 19 and will not reopen until November 2.
It came after new national rules on September 24, which banned social mixing in homes on top of the rules in England (rule of six and 10pm curfew).
During the lockdown, 90 per cent of people in the UK said they understood the rules. Six out of ten people in still did as restrictions were eased over summer.
As the rules started to change in the four nations, UCL presented findings for England, Wales and Scotland separately.
Understanding of the rules in England dropped to 45 per cent in July, before a significant change in restrictions when pubs, restaurants and cafes opened on July 4.
Although a slightly higher number of people in England said they understand the rules now (51 per cent) compared to July, the researchers expect this to reverse amid the tiered-lockdown system.
Dr Daisy Fancourt, lead author of the study from UCL, said levels of understanding had dramatically fallen, and the new tier system may be increasing confusion.
She said: ‘Levels of understanding around what is and isn’t allowed under current lockdown restrictions have dropped markedly since nationwide “strict lockdown” has ended.
‘This issue may well also be exacerbated by the newly introduced system of tiers in England and the differing policies of the devolved nations.
‘As well as this potentially leading to people breaking rules they don’t fully understand, confusing messages or unclear communication could result in people disengaging from trying to keep abreast of restrictions, which could well lead to lower compliance in the long term.
‘These developments are especially worrying at a time when the number of cases continues to climb, so it is vital that the government improves communication of lockdown restrictions and ensures they are as simple to understand and follow as possible.’
Critics of the Government’s handling of the pandemic say clear and concise public health messaging was a key failure.
Last week Dr Gabriel Scally, an epidemiologist at the Royal Society of Medicine, said: ‘The problem has been in consistent messaging.
‘They are far from clear and consistent from the government unfortunately.
‘As everyone knows we were being extorted to work in our offices in the centre of cities even if we didn’t want to, because it would be good for the economy. Then a couple of weeks later the virus numbers go up and we were told stay at home if you can.
‘People get confused by that, they lose hope and belief.’
It has become apparent that even the Prime Minister has struggled to grapple with the coronavirus restrictions.
On September 29, Boris Johnson was forced to make an embarrassing apology after getting mixed up over local lockdown measures in north-east England.
He said he ‘misspoke’ after wrongly suggesting the ‘rule of six’, imposed two weeks prior, does not apply outdoors in the region.
Owen Weatherill, the officer leading the national police response, admitted yesterday he did not know the new lockdown rules and they should be simplified.
The research asked people how well they understood the rules from one, meaning not at all, to seven, which meant ‘very much so’.
Scores above four were taken to mean that people had a broad understanding of the measures.
Comprehension of the rules is currently lowest amongst younger adults in all nations.
Just one in 20 adults (five per cent) aged under 30 currently report completely understanding the rules in England or Wales, compared to one in six in Scotland.
This compares to around one in seven adults over the age of 30 in England and one in six in Wales and Scotland.
The researchers said younger people may be less clued up because they do not watch the news as often as older people, or have more complicated lives that are harder to apply the regulations to.
Educated people, with a university degree or higher qualification, were least able to understand the rules. It was suggested this was because they scrutinise them more closely for inconsistencies.
The study also found people felt more in control of aspects of their lives since July.
Around three fifths of respondents (60 per cent) felt in control of future plans compared with half in July.
Meanwhile 70 per cent now felt in control of their employment situation – up from 60 per cent in July.
Despite this, the study found half of respondents do not feel at all in control or only feel a little in control of their mental health.
The project started in mid-March and claims to be the UK’s largest study into how adults are feeling about the lockdown.
It tracks the response to Government advice, wellbeing and mental health, following more than 70,000 participants over the last 30 weeks.