COVID 19 – A Case Study in Societal Risk Perception

With the worldwide use of ‘social distancing’ becoming a social norm, will that make the idea of coincidence in quantified risk calculation more palatable to the public, politicians, the courts, the power industry or the earthing industry?

The past year has been a public demonstration of how risk can be used to public benefit and detriment. Different states around the world have responded by varying degrees of effectiveness in protesting their population from the consequences of the virus, ranging from infection to financial hardship and physiological strain. It has also been a clear demonstration of how differently risk is interpreted and acted upon.

To take this further it is clear that in some circumstances society reacts to risks when it is clearly being presented as a rate of occurrence. For instance the reaction in the uptake of the Astra Zeneca vaccine because to blood clotting. This occurred not because the risk was greater than acceptable, but because of the rate at which people were presenting symptoms. It was clear that the rate at which differing incidents were being reported created a public reaction, to which both governments and health authorities reacted, as well as recipients.

Similarly the public understanding of what the vaccine will do is outstanding, and not in a good way. Vaccination is not a 100% cure, but it will change the tide. What do the effectiveness rates of vaccination mean, particularly in light of what the statistics tel us about the impacts of COVID-19 on various segments of society.

To cast some light on what it all means this paper goes back to basics, defines the various forms of risk and perceived risk. From that basis hopefully we can define a reasonable reaction to these and future circumstances and what is just an unjustified emotional response.

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