The initial debate around the COVID-19 pandemic has focused primarily on the response of government decision-makers and technical experts. Debate has raged as to the extent of social distancing and lockdown restrictions and the scale of governing authorities’ response to the economic perils of the ongoing crisis. These issues are crucial. It is equally important, however, to recognise that government action by itself cannot control the pandemic and certainly cannot enable us to transition from the current crisis mode to a long-term public health solution. The attitudes, behaviour and expectations of individual citizens and communities are fundamental to the successful easing of restrictions and the move to a stable future.
Without the willing contribution of the community on a large scale, there is little hope of a successful conclusion to the current public health crisis. At the most obvious level, individuals and communities need to change their behaviour in order to prevent the spread of the virus, but more than that, voluntary community action is essential to tackle some of the deeply disruptive impacts. Citizens and communities can help to relieve overstretched formal health services, assisting with community-based testing, responding to the mental health consequences of prolonged social isolation, especially in vulnerable individuals.