Would you dob in a coronavirus rule-breaker?

Witnessing others apparently breach coronavirus restrictions during pandemic lockdowns is infuriating for some Australians.

Thousands of people have been more than happy to dob in those they see breaking the rules.

While we might feel like it’s justified, turning people in doesn’t come without a moral cost.

This is how some Australians feel about the issue and what experts have to say about it.

‘It has absolutely destroyed an eight-year friendship’

Police wearing masks speak to a woman outside a block of units in Flemington, Melbourne.
Trust thy neighbour? It depends who you ask.(AAP: David Crosling)

Melbourne has been under the latest round of Stage 4 restrictions since August 2, severely limiting who can visit a home, and how much time someone can spend away from their home.

For Amanda from Melbourne, frustration with a neighbour she believes is breaking the rules has ended an eight-year friendship.

“My neighbour’s adult children and their children visit them daily,” she said.

“The daughters go to drop their kids off there because they are nurses — but they are there for four hours beforehand and four hours after.

Amanda said she confronted her neighbours to tell them their actions were causing her anger and stress, but she says she was met with indifference.

“It has absolutely destroyed an eight-year friendship with our neighbours to the point we are now looking to move.”

Amanda said she had to close the curtains on the side of the house facing her neighbours as a result.

‘I am very concerned that this may undermine everyone else’s hard work’

The announcement of a social bubble for those in Melbourne has been a welcome relief for some.

It will allow people who are single or live alone to nominate one other person they are allowed to visit.

But Aaron, from Melbourne, said friends are looking to find loopholes in the law to visit more people.

“It completely defeats the purpose and it seems like it is going to be widespread.”

Aaron said he sympathised with his friends who were living alone.

He said he understands people are “fed up” with restrictions, but fears the social bubble would create another wave of infections.

“They say there is no way for authorities to stop them from doing so,” he said.

“I am very concerned that this may undermine everyone else’s hard work if these people are able to socialise with lots of other people in their homes.”

‘I have spoken to another neighbour and they were concerned as well’

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Premier Daniel Andrews says a social bubble will be created for singles and those who live alone to visit close friends.

A person, who asked remain anonymous, said they were frustrated with what they consider is a lack of rule enforcement.

After watching neighbours have several people over — including non-relatives — they called the police.

They said it has happened more than once and made others in the street angry.

“This family we know had two of her sons and their girlfriends over for Mother’s Day, while we were all trying to do the right thing,” they said.

“I have spoken to another neighbour and they were concerned as well. We don’t want to spread the virus.”

If you breach COVID-19 solidarity, ‘you’re on your own’

A woman walking a small dog wearing a mask with other people in masks in the background.
Some people feel “quite happy for people to go after others” who don’t follow the restrictions.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)

People are usually reluctant to dob in their neighbours. But the seriousness of the pandemic means people now feel that calling the police is justified if they see apparent breaches, according to University of Queensland social psychologist Jolanda Jetten.

The steps made to contain the disease in Melbourne means people there are especially happy to inform authorities, she said.

“People have made huge sacrifices so I think there’s the idea that if you break the solidarity [in containing the virus] then ‘I don’t have to show any solidarity with you and you’re on your own’,” Professor Jetten said.

Because of the pandemic she said people feel “quite happy for people to go after others” who don’t follow the coronavirus restrictions.

“I think there’s a lot of rule violations in other aspects of life that people wouldn’t dob their neighbour in about, where you get irritated but you won’t do anything,” she said.

Dobbing ‘can be something that’s easily resented’

Despite the seriousness of the pandemic, dobbing doesn’t come without a cost, said Griffith University ethicist Dr Hugh Breakey.

“It can put a strain on relationships, it can be something that is easily resented,” Dr Breaky said.

“[An informant is] saying they know the rules and the other person doesn’t know the rules, won’t follow the rules or isn’t following them properly and needs to be policed, punished or chastised.”

He said people generally follow rules because they think they are legitimate, or because they are afraid about what those in their social circle would think.

“So being able to show that we do disapprove, that this isn’t appropriate, that there is a social cost in breaking these regulations, is actually very important because we’re human beings, we’re social creatures,” Dr Breakey said.

“Then the question is, does that apply to dobbing?

“Is dobbing part of showing that social pressure, and if it is, is it a constructive part of showing the social pressure of knowing that other people are watching and they disapprove?

“Or is it a step too far because we’re putting ourselves above the person when we’re calling in the forces of the state and we get more resentment than a sort of social disapproval?”

How do you know if someone has broken the rules?

Each state and territory has different rules and restrictions.

So before you think about dobbing in a neighbour, it would be best to make sure if a rule is being broken.

You can click on your state to find what rules are in place where you live.

How do I report a COVID rule breaker?

All states and territories have the same telephone number for Crime Stoppers, 1800 333 000, and a police assistance line 131 444.

You can also visit the websites in the above section to find online forms to fill out.