The impact of "freedom day" on COVID-19 health protective behaviour in England: An observational study of hand hygiene, face covering use and physical distancing in public spaces pre and post the relaxing of restrictions.
Davies R., Martin AF., Smith LE., Mowbray F., Woodland L., Amlôt R., Rubin GJ.
OBJECTIVES: To study the prevalence of COVID-19 health protective behaviours before and after rules eased in England on the 19th July 2021. DESIGN: Observational study pre (12th-18th July) and post (26th July-1st August) 19th July, and a cross-sectional online survey (26th to 27th July). SETTING: Observations occurred in supermarkets (n = 10), train stations (n = 10), bus stops (n = 10), a coach station (n = 1) and a London Underground station (n = 1). The survey recruited a nationally representative sample. PARTICIPANTS: All adults entering the observed locations during a one-hour period (n = 3819 pre- and n = 2948 post-19th July). In the online survey, 1472 respondents reported having been shopping for groceries/visited a pharmacy and 566 reported having used public transport or having been in a taxi/minicab in the last week. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: We observed whether people wore a face covering, maintained distance from others and cleaned their hands. We investigated self-reports of wearing a face covering while in shops or using public transport. RESULTS: In most locations observed, the proportion of people wearing face coverings, cleaning the hands and maintaining physical distance declined post 19th July. Pre 19th July, 70.2% (95% CI 68.7 to 71.7%) of people were observed to be wearing a face covering versus 55.8% (54.2 to 57.9%) post 19th July. Equivalent rates for physical distancing were 40.9% (39.0 to 42.8%) versus 29.5% (27.4 to 31.7%), and for hand hygiene were 4.4% (3.8 to 5.1%) versus 3.9% (3.2 to 4.6%). Self-reports of "always" wearing face coverings were broadly similar to observed rates. CONCLUSIONS: Adherence to protective behaviours was sub-optimal and declined during the relaxation of restrictions, despite appeals to exercise caution. Self-reports of "always" wearing a face covering in specific locations appear valid.