Compliance to Standard Operating Procedures (Sops) to prevent the spread of Covid-19 will remain a challenge until individual behaviour and cultural practices change.
Although SOPs are meant for one’s protection, individuals continue to defy them as they fulfil their culture requirements. Not even police can change the practices and culture. Even when the implementers of SOPs try to penalise those defying, many will find ways of hiding.
For instance, while it is mandatory to have social distance in public transport, markets and public spaces, many people continue to do the contrary.
In Kampala, taxi operators are required to carry half the number of passengers but during rush hour, people will be packed to even beyond full capacity. Passengers too tend to take part in noncompliance by allowing to be squeezed.
Empty seats are often tempting and this may occur when children return to schools.
Recently, the BBC reported how difficult it is to observe social distancing in London trains during rush hours; where anxious passengers fill up spaces to sit and stand in passages.
Many times, the Minister of Health comes out to explain how to use masks correctly but some people still wear them in the neck or chin. A majority number of people now wear masks for the sake of pleasing the police.
The requirement of wearing masks faces defiance for many reasons; including hiding smartness. The facemask is said to hide lipstick for ladies and smiles for everyone hence it is taken off while taking group photographs in public events.
This culture or belief in displaying smartness cannot easily be eroded unless there are continuous messages or even sad experiences like a hike in Covid-19 infections.
To prevent the above, government is forced to deploy tough enforcement measures such as lockdowns and arrests.
Change in culture and practice takes place faster among children than adults; because adults tend to be rigid.
Social distancing is a new culture which is not easy to observe in public especially when there is an open chance for defaulting.
Social scientists explain that change of cultural practices and behaviour is a process that can take place either in a short or a long term; and that it requires change of tools to make it effective. The short-term process can be used by authorities to enforce quick change, although it can bring damage and adverse effects such as riots in return.
A case in point is whenever LDUs (local defense unit personnel) or police are deployed, people’s behaviour and practices change in a short time for fear of being arrested.
However, they tend to go back when there is no enforcement. While police can use a lot of force, it may cause fear and damage instead of genuine cultural change.
Social scientists advise that once people learn their habits through a socialisation process such as parenting and in school, their culture is formed (values, beliefs, behaviour, fashion, practices). Once formed, that culture can only be changed through deliberate resocialization processes such as mass media messages, retraining on new rules and guidelines, and change of tools to use. In the case of compliance to SOPs, consistent steps of resocialization are required for a long-term change. This implies for as long as the pandemic stays and may influence a new culture altogether.
Most coronavirus SOPs used today were first implemented during the Spanish flu Pandemic of 1918 – 1920 which spread to one third of the world population.
Laura Spinney, 2018, reveals that the deadly pandemic changed the world but was forgotten so quickly; not until another one hit and the practices had to be recalled. Therefore, a new culture influenced by public health concerns should be adopted consistently.
For cultural change to last, other tools and instruments must change for effective compliance. However, some requirements demand overhaul which may be challenging.
In schools, shared desks have to be replaced by singular desks, double decks to single beds. In churches, benches have to be replaced by single chairs.
In crowded markets and shops, demarcations have to be added to ensure that people stand apart by 1-2 metres.
Imagine shared passenger seats have to be changed to singular. Celebration ceremonies, funeral gatherings, and religious congregations have to shrink in numbers. These changes will require change of policies, laws and structures. Conclusively, a cultural change should be expected as a way of preventing Covid19 pandemic.
Joy T Asiimwe
Researchers, NEMRA Early Career