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Self-care, social norms and anomie during COVID-19: from contestation of the greater good to building future normative resilience in the UK
  1. Richard Antony Powell1,2,
  2. Kathleen Kendall3,
  3. Ben Cislaghi4,
  4. Austen El-Osta5
  1. 1 Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College London, London, UK
  2. 2 NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Northwest London, London, UK
  3. 3 School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  4. 4 Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  5. 5 Self-Care Academic Research Unit, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Mr Richard Antony Powell, Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College London, London SW7 2BX, UK; r.powell{at}

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Drawing on peer-reviewed and grey literature, Powell et al argue the dominant narrative of personal self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic must be supplemented with a collectivist approach that addresses structural inequalities and fosters a more equitable society.

Compliance with self-care and risk mitigation strategies to tackle COVID-19 has been chequered in the UK, fuelled partly by social media hoaxes and misinformation, virus denialism, and policy leaders contravening their own public health messaging. Exploring individual non-compliance, and reflecting on wider societal inequities that can impact it, can help build critical normative resilience to future pandemics.

From the outset, COVID-19 public health messaging was, and remains, primarily aimed at modifying individual lifestyles and behaviours to flatten the infectivity curve by following ‘common sense’ approaches captured by the hands–face–space mantra.1 A culture of practice and new social norms of acceptable behaviour subsequently emerged,2 with concordance premised on cooperation between the public and government. However, as the pandemic worsened and movement restrictions continued, norms were contested by a small but vocal segment of society.

This normative contestation was founded on conflict between individual agency, government paternalism and regulatory diktat, and echoed Kant’s epistemology of altruism and the need to sacrifice individual liberties for the ‘greater good’. This conflict was exacerbated by multiple lockdowns that significantly impacted individuals’ …

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  • Contributors There were no additional contributors to the paper apart from the listed authors. Each made substantial contributions to the conception of the work, its drafting and revision.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.