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This paper was first published on the NIDS-CRAM website, where all papers are available for download at


South Africa’s lockdown in March and April has saved lives by containing the spread of COVID-19 but it has done so at a tremendous social and economic cost. To avoid a second surge and another lockdown, it is vital to prioritise adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) as a first line of defence against containing COVID-19. NPIs can save lives without having to risk livelihoods. But to have an impact, it requires sufficiently high levels of public adherence. This paper considers adherence to NPIs and risk perceptions against the backdrop of an increase in freedom of movement with the relaxation of alert level 4 to alert level 3 in July. At the same time, there was a steep rise in objective COVID-19 risk with the surge in cases. The study examines the relationship of NPI adherence and the perceived risk of contracting COVID-19, the perceived effectiveness of NPIs and the accuracy of information held. We find a large increase in perceived infection risk and mask-wearing over this period. There are encouraging signs of the widespread credibility of high-impact NPIs and few resort to unproven prevention measures and poor science.


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