Communication and support for physical distancing during COVID-19

In response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world began implementing a range of physical distancing measures in 2020. Such measures aimed to limit the transmission of the virus within communities and included isolation, quarantine, crowd avoidance and school and work closures or restrictions. Despite the availability and roll-out of vaccines against COVID-19 in 2021, the need for physical distancing measures continues. How best to communicate with people to ensure acceptance of these measures, and uptake of and adherence to them over time, has been unclear and continues to be a critical issue for governments and health agencies worldwide.

In March 2020, the European Office of the World Health Organization commissioned the Centre for Health Communication and Participation to undertake a rapid review of evidence to answer the following question to inform public health decision-making: What are relevant, feasible and effective approaches to promote acceptance, uptake and adherence to physical distancing measures for COVID-19 prevention and control?

Our researchers used rapid synthesis methods to bring together a range of evidence, including that from guidelines and systematic reviews, to answer this question and to inform public health decision making.

The rapid review is available here.

What is next?

In 2021 we are leading a rapid update of this review, together with a team of experts in public health, epidemiology, communication and infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The updated review will be published on the Cochrane Library. Since the beginning of the pandemic there has been a large amount of research undertaken on COVID-19. The original review included evidence available up to the beginning of May 2020. In this update, more recent and emerging evidence on communication and support for physical distancing will be assessed and analysed. Updating the rapid review will therefore ensure that it remains up-to-date and comprehensive and that it can be used by public health decision-makers and health agencies.

We anticipate completion of this rapid review update in 2021, and are pleased to welcome new colleagues to the research team, including colleagues from the Burnet Institute, Wales Covid-19 Evidence Centre, Cochrane Australia, and an Evidence Synthesis Ireland Fellow (Dr Charlotte Silke).

The protocol for the rapid review update is available here.