Discovered: Covid ‘trust threshold’ where restrictions do not work – and UK is on the cusp

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A Covid “trust threshold” below which restrictions do not work has been discovered by scientists – and Britain sits right on the cusp.

Research by the University of Exeter has found that countries in which at least 40 per cent of citizens agree that “most people can be trusted” were found to have used restrictions to effectively reduce cases and deaths during 2020.

More trusting societies tended to achieve a faster decline in infections and deaths from peak levels, but those below 40 per cent struggled to bring the virus under control.

The researchers believe the effect happens because behaviours needed to stop the spread of coronavirus, such as mask wearing and social distancing, depend on mutual trust to be effective.

Previous studies show levels of trust in the UK are at the critical 40 per cent, compared to more than 60 per cent in Scandinavian countries. China also has high levels of trust within society.

‘Building trust should be a long-term project’ 

Professor Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter, said: “Our results add to evidence that trust within society benefits resilience to epidemics.

“Building trust within communities should be a long-term project for all nations because this will help them cope with future pandemics and other challenges such as extreme events caused by climate change.”

The researchers studied data from more than 150 countries, looking at how easily they managed to control cases and deaths before vaccines were available.

Up to December 1 2020, 156 countries had experienced at least one peak and then decline of cases and deaths. 

For bringing down cases, Mauritius was found to be the most resilient and Costa Rica the least. For deaths, Slovakia was best while Romania, Mexico and Indonesia were worst.

They discovered that although most governments applied similarly stringent restrictions, there was hugely varying success in whether they controlled the spread of the virus.

All countries where more than 40 per cent of respondents agreed “most people can be trusted” achieved a near complete reduction of new cases and deaths.

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