So it’s been confirmed. The final part of the roadmap out of England’s lockdown has been delayed by another month due to rising Covid cases. And while some won’t be that put out by the news, for others it’s been a huge kick in the teeth.
Festival organisers and those who work in the events industry, as well as nightclub owners whose establishments have been shut for well over a year, have been struck the hardest blow. And those with weddings booked aren’t too happy either – while celebrations for over 30 are now allowed, social distancing measures mean someone’s big day might not run quite as they planned.
As well as extending the delay, the news has widened the Covid divide. With life returning to normal for many people, it can feel even harder for those having to wait a little longer. “The reported changes may negatively affect some people, while the majority of others may not be affected at all,” says Professor Ivo Vlaev, an expert in behavioural science at the University of Warwick.
“Those who will lose something – those with businesses and livelihoods in areas who hadn’t yet been allowed to open, or maybe because they booked wedding or other celebration – will feel disappointed.”
That feeling also comes from the way things have been communicated, he adds. “Do not promise someone something, unless you can deliver it, because people will feel a sense of ownership and sense of loss when you take it away.”
The earlier easing steps have already returned many people’s work and lives to relative normality. Then there are those, whisper it, who are actually happy about the further delay – it’s normal to want more and less lockdown at the same time – and who will feel safer as a result of not yet having to head to busy events and social gatherings.
But the sense of loss is very real for some people right now, made harder by the fact others don’t seem to be impacted by the news at all.
As well as the financial and practical implications for people’s jobs and plans, the reason why the news hits hard emotionally is because of what is described in psychology as ‘loss aversion’, says Prof Vlaev – where we dislike losses far more than we like gains of an equivalent amount.
“The opportunity to gain something is highly pleasurable, but the fear of losing something is emotionally intense and provokes strong negative feelings,” he explains. “Our aversion to losses leads to what is known as the endowment effect or mere ownership effect, which is the observation that people who own something tend to evaluate it more positively than people who do not.
“So, the mentality of some people may be: ‘You [the government] promised me my freedoms and associated pleasures after 21st June, now you are taking it away’.”
Humans are creatures who like to rationalise and have an explanation for why something happens, says Prof Vlaev, so if you are struggling, understanding the government’s reasons for the change in plan is key.
Monday’s announcement from Boris Johnson confirmed that the June 21 unlockdown had been delayed by four weeks to avoid a third wave of Covid that would cost “thousands” of deaths. The aim is to get more people vaccinated with first and second doses during this window of time and also to track the impact of the Delta variant on hospitalisations and deaths.
If people are given a credible reason for why something unpleasant is happening then they experience less distress and their wellbeing takes less of a hit. Prof Vlaev suggests. “The worst thing is unexplained and random pain.”
The government needs to communicate “clear and robust reasons for the policy”, he adds and while the disappointment some people are feeling will erode trust going forward, for many others, attitudes towards social contact will remain unchanged. “For them, this will be life-as-usual a bit longer.”