Wellington Scoop

The masking and scanning challenge

by Dr Dougal Sutherland, Clinical Psychologist, Victoria University of Wellington and Umbrella Wellbeing
Old habits die hard. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. These proverbs ring true for us as we encounter a new community cluster of Covid-19. Put simply, Kiwis aren’t in the habit of wearing face-masks or scanning-into restaurants and shops we visit. We have seen some spikes in these behaviours but they appear to be temporary changes in our behaviour promoted by a change in how real we perceive the threat of the virus.

The government is faced with the challenge of how to ramp up its threat message to the public quickly and effectively enough for us to start doing something new, such as using the covid app.

Under-emphasising the threat has obvious implications. But over-emphasising the threat could lead to people distrusting government communications, which could also lead to reduced app and face-mask use.

Some have asked why the government simply doesn’t legislate for us to use the tracing app. Again, making this behaviour mandatory could erode trust in the government and could also produce psychological reactance, which is where people do the opposite of what they’re being told to do precisely because they are being told to do it.

Tapping into people’s intrinsic motivation to do something new is the most likely path to get results. During our first Level 4 lockdown the government appealed to our sense of community and compassion for others. Staying at home was as much about keeping others safe as it was about keeping ourselves safe.

No doubt there are a large number of government officials currently racking their brains of what’s the next psychological lever they can pull to make us want to wear masks and scan in. And perhaps this is the best we can hope for, at least in the short-term, as trying to establish new norms in public behaviour can be a lengthy process taking months if not years to embed.

by Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington
As this week’s events illustrate, there is obvious value in making mask use mandatory on flights and other transport settings. It is hard to see why the Government has held back from taking this potentially life-saving prevention measure. In the interests of transparent decision-making from Government, New Zealanders need to know the reasoning behind this decision.

It’s good to hear that the latest border system failure is being reviewed. In particular, I hope that there will be epidemiologists’ eyes on the review of risks for border workers, both in their workplaces and in their communities.

Workers in border-associated occupations are different from the rest of us in terms of risk because of how much exposure they have: even if they’re feeling well, their risk of being infectious remains substantial. A systematic analysis of how to protect these vulnerable workers and their contacts (and eventually, of course, everyone) would be time well spent.

These two articles were first published yesterday by the Science Media Centre.

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  1. David Mackenzie, 10. November 2020, 11:26

    I always wear a mask on public transport, since I heard the Prime Minister say it was a good idea, when Auckland was in Level 2. If you trust your national leader, why would you not follow her advice?

    Furthermore, I scrupulously use the App to track my movements, including every bus trip I make. What’s the problem?

    I am disappointed to find I live with lazy, selfish, and foolish country-folk.

  2. Toni, 10. November 2020, 12:37

    Just make wearing masks mandatory on public transport.
    I always use the app but note not many people do.
    Why not make it mandatory or maybe get some enthusiasm by having a monthly prize draw from for using the app?
    That might generate interest and get people in the habit of using the app – or will we hear screams of privacy issues etc?

  3. Claire, 10. November 2020, 13:46

    Wearing a mask is uncomfortable. I think it’s probably only going to happen again if we have an outbreak.

  4. Helene Ritchie, 10. November 2020, 13:49

    If it were mandatory to wear a mask outside, on public transport, flights, in crowds, and inside in crowds, I am sure people would wear them. It just needs clear Government messaging and a level 1.5 to do it. I believe most people would willingly do so, to protect themselves and others. People are not lazy, selfish or foolish. They don’t wear masks now because they perceive there is no need to.

    As for nurses working with infectious patients in quarantine/isolation or wherever, not having N.95 masks to wear. That is just irresponsible. There should be no debate. Essential workers must have proper personal protection equipment-PPE. This senseless argument has gone on since February. Good on the Nurses Union for continuing to pursue it. The safety of nurses and doctors is paramount.

  5. Dave B, 10. November 2020, 15:32

    I suspect the reason the government eased-back from compulsory mask-wearing and contact-recording was to signal a reward to the public for their co-operation during the times when the alert-levels were high, and for helping twice to eliminate community-spread. The ‘carrot’ of eased-restrictions once the immediate threat has passed makes it much easier to endure the ‘stick’ of further restrictions if and when they have to be reapplied. If the government has to raise the alert-levels again, I am sure that people will again embrace mask-wearing and venue-recording.

    As for mandatory use of the tracing app, will those who suggest this please bear in mind that not all of us have (or want, or need) a working smart-phone on our person at all times.

  6. Helene Ritchie, 10. November 2020, 17:32

    Go hard go early! What happened to that?

    Air NZ is the subject of a current passenger case. Its inflight staff do not wear masks. If they did and set that example customers would. If they don’t then passengers assume there is no need for concern. Level 1.5 with a masking up requirement would solve that. When people were required to wear masks for a short time, they did, and many enjoyed making them.

  7. Claire, 10. November 2020, 19:33

    The Govt is trialing a covid card in Rotorua. This is the way to go, the least amount we have to do, the more successful it will be. And as said above not all people have a cellphone, or one with the compatibility to upload the covid tracer App.

  8. Andrew, 11. November 2020, 11:55

    Things that would help with increasing the use of the app:
    – QR codes should be front and centre at every location
    – more than one QR code should be displayed so multiple people can scan at once
    – The multiple codes should be at various heights
    – The codes should be usable under all lighting conditions. If they are behind glass, reflections can stop them working reliably. Same for low light conditions – they need to be well lit
    – QR codes should be in the standard format with a white background so scanning is easy and they’re easy to find

    There’s nothing worse than standing at a code and it not scanning correctly – people don’t like to look conspicuous they want to look confident and in control. Whip out your phone, scan successfully quickly and first time, move on. Even I, an extremely assiduous user of the app, will balk at trying to scan a bad QR. I’d rather feign it working then stand around trying to get it to work.

  9. Henry Filth, 11. November 2020, 14:05

    I have no idea how to scan a QR code. But I wear a mask when I go out. Why would I not wear a mask when I go out?