What would you rather have?  The choice is between 100% of people being 95% compliant or 80% of people being 100% compliant? It looks like one of those trick questions doesn’t it? I’m meant to go for the better numbers 100% and 95% but it doesn’t take me long to realise that it is better to have 100% compliance from some than 5% non-compliance for everyone.

In the context of Coronavirus, this would look like a choice between 80% of the population observing lockdown rules and guidelines completely, staying home, not visiting others, keeping 2 metres apart when on their daily walks or 100% of us observing the rules most of the time. Complying 95% of the time would mean that we observe lock down but we find exceptions. I might stay home most of the week but pop round to visit mum on Saturdays, have a couple of my friends come and visit and hug the person I’ve not seen in ages.

You can see at this point why 80% of the population complying fully is better than 100% complying almost completely. If most of us do exactly what the guidelines say then we are completely shielded from the illness. There will be some who are not but even their ability to spread the illness is restricted because of the people resolutely complying. However in the second scenario, my 5% non-compliance makes the 95% of the time when I am in line with the rules futile.

Now, the fascinating thing is that I believe you will see cultural attitudes that will affect how a society is intuitively drawn towards one or the other of the options I suggested above.  I believe British culture has an in built “good enough” attitude. We lean to the “get 95% compliance from everyone” attitude. We are not rule breaking anarchists, we see some sense in the laws given to us. However, we also bristle a little at being told what to do, we enjoy a level of independence. Furthermore, we have learnt to make do a bit over the years. We have an in built concept of fairness and doing your best which means we would rather seen all of our national sports teams do well and come close than one team win the World Cup in its sport.  We would rather get the job done whether it is manufacturing a product or doing some household DIY and repairs. After all, if it is not quite right we can inspect it and try and correct the problem later. 

Two questions people have been asking relate directly to this. The first one is “How reliable are the models used to predict the  spread and effect of the pandemic.” The second one is “How does/did a Government decide which measures to bring in when and the timing of introducing a lifting of lockdown. Human behaviour in relation to laws and compliance is important on that score. Further, there is a level of unpredictability to that. Whilst models do allow for levels of non-compliance in society, it isn’t just whether or not people will fail to comply but how that counts too.

Whilst it is too early at this stage to draw any firm conclusions about how we have coped with COVID-19, this will be an interesting factor to look back on when reviewing  how things went and the effect of compliance and non-compliance with guidelines on the results.

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