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ΑρχικήEnglish EditionThe psychology behind breaking covid restrictions

The psychology behind breaking covid restrictions

By Vasiliki Theodosiou,

The pandemic and the way people are experiencing it has magically managed to penetrate cultural differences and country borders. With most countries adopting lockdown restrictions and citizens all over the world being encouraged to “stay at home” the virus and the efforts to combat it have spread through the whole universe, proving once more its globalized nature.

The same way that the virus spread all over, the behaviour towards it was expressed with people choosing to comply, ignore or even break the so called “covid rules”. From an illegal Good Friday Church service in London, to a student party at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, people keep breaking the rules regardless of their cultural background. Not being in a position to deeply examine and project the reasons behind these actions does not necessarily prevent one from exploring their etiology and expressing some simple thoughts.

Looking at the Greek example, we have a country that’s been in and out of lockdown for over a year now, and yes, we are well aware of the fact that this is the case with most European countries, however there are some differences which are interesting to point out. The current greek government has not announced a specific exit plan from covid restrictions but rather seems to have a high uncertainty when it comes to decision making, causing confusion and uncertainty to its citizens as well. On the contrary, the British government has announced a definite exit plan from lockdown setting out a road map and key dates, in line with its vaccination schedule, as well as a final exit date on the 21st of June that will allegedly be the day when all restrictions are lifted.

A look at the Bloomerg agency statistics on how countries are handling the pandemic, is more than enough to make one realize the unfortunate nature that Greece is currently in, with a disproportionate amount of covid cases on a daily basis and an extremely vulnerable health system for which nothing seems to be done towards the aim of reenforcing it. 

Image source: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-55630164

Differences in handling the pandemic are important but let’s have a look on similarities on citizen behaviour towards it. Both greek and British citizens found themselves blaming their very own prime ministers for allegedly breaking the lockdown rules. Boris was called to explain a bike ride way out of the mile radius that people were supposed to respect during their movements, while multiple demands were made to Mitsotakis for organizing overcrowded feasts as well as breaking a similar concept of staying within a certain radius. It could, therefore, be stated that when you have state representatives themselves, breaking rules, people might end up feeling betrayed and, thus, on no condition obliged to continue following the government’s health-oriented guidelines. 

Leaders, let alone state leaders, have a key responsibility in setting out an example that citizens are to comply with. Under no circumstances, a citizen can feel safe and obliged to comply in an environment full of uncertainty and with a leadership that is clearly failing to manage the pandemic that has changed our lives during the past year. 

Setting out a clear exiting strategy as well as a clear and responsible example of leadership are key to ensuring that people will not get into the process of defying the rules as an expression of discontent towards the state’s actions or simply as an expression of exhaustion from constant meaningless and careless regulations. 

It is not a matter of perceiving people as careless and exclusively pointing fingers and blaming the “law-breakers”. On the contrary, it is a matter of taking a look on the other side, and realising the motives behind them doing so that ultimately lead one on the question of government trust and of successfully achieving compliance.

  • Lockdown: Boris Johnson unveils plan to end England restrictions by 21 June, BBC, Available here.
  • Θεσσαλονίκη: Κορονοπάρτι με 1.000 άτομα στο ΑΠΘ, In gr, Available here.
  • Greek PM accused of breaking coronavirus lockdown rules — again, Politico, Available here.
  • Καθίζηση της Ελλάδας στη διαχείριση της πανδημίας-Κοντά στον πάτο της Ευρώπης, SofokleousIn, Available here.
  • Five Countries, Five Experiences of the Pandemic, The New Yorker, Available here.
  • Using Behavioural Psychology to Understand Following (and Breaking) Rules, KeilCentre, Available here.
  • Police break up Good Friday church service over apparent Covid rule breaches, The Guardian, Available here.



Vasiliki Theodosiou
Graduate of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki with a specialisation in Linguistics. Former member of the European Youth Parliament and TEDxAUTH. Apart from her linguistic background she also has a musical background as the latter constitutes a field that she is equally fond of.