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During the COVID-19 pandemic, public perceptions and behaviours have had to adapt rapidly to new risk scenarios and radical behavioural restrictions.


To identify major drivers of acceptance of protective behaviours during the 4-week transition from virtually no COVID-19 cases to the nationwide lockdown in Germany (3–25 March 2020).


A serial cross-sectional online survey was administered weekly to ca 1,000 unique individuals for four data collection rounds in March 2020 using non-probability quota samples, representative of the German adult population between 18 and 74 years in terms of age × sex and federal state (n = 3,910). Acceptance of restrictions was regressed on sociodemographic variables, time and psychological variables, e.g. trust, risk perceptions, self-efficacy. Extraction of homogenous clusters was based on knowledge and behaviour.


Acceptance of restrictive policies increased with participants’ age and employment in the healthcare sector; cognitive and particularly affective risk perceptions were further significant predictors. Acceptance increased over time, as trust in institutions became more relevant and trust in media became less relevant. The cluster analysis further indicated that having a higher education increased the gap between knowledge and behaviour. Trust in institutions was related to conversion of knowledge into action.


Identifying relevant principles that increase acceptance will remain crucial to the development of strategies that help adjust behaviour to control the pandemic, possibly for years to come. Based on our findings, we provide operational recommendations for health authorities regarding data collection, health communication and outreach.


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