Slowing the spread of the virus, which thrives on human contact, still depends on individuals changing their behavior.
“The only other option is to lock us up again,” said Francesca Del Gaudio, 24, as she and a friend, wearing masks like nearly everyone around them, walked through Rome’s Piazza Trilussa on Thursday, the first day of Italy’s expanded measures. “And we do not want that.”
But if people choose not to listen to guidance, it remains to be seen if steep punishments will chasten them. Violators in Italy now face a 1,000-euro fine.
Surveys in countries across Europe reviewed by the health officials show that a clear majority of people are willing to comply with regulations if they are well explained and easy to follow.
People may also be more willing to submit to new restrictions if they see hospitals fill and death tolls rise, Ms. Betsch said.
But Europe’s regulatory landscape is shifting so quickly that governments risk undermining basic guidance in their contortions to avoid further lockdowns Some steps have seemed simply nonsensical.
In Spain, restaurants in Madrid were ordered to stop serving after 10 p.m., and to close by 11 p.m. — when many people are just considering sitting down to eat.
“Everybody knows that we dine in Spain much later than in other countries, so not being able to stay open until midnight is pure economic nonsense,” said Florentino Pérez del Barsa, a Madrid restaurateur.
While public attention often focuses on those who shout the loudest — like the thousands who protested recently outside the Reichstag in Berlin and in London’s Trafalgar Square, calling the pandemic a hoax and a government-driven plot — they represent only about 10 percent of the public, according to a study from Germany.
About 20 percent of people are against regulations, presumably for personal, emotional and financial reasons.
But Ms. Betsch, who has been working with the W.H.O. research group, said the larger concern is roughly half the population — the “fence-sitters.”
They are open to regulations but need to be listened to and educated, she said, and new government policies that are fragmented only compound the frustration.
The choices facing national governments are onerous.
The French government, watching anxiously as hospital beds fill up, extended its maximum-alert ‘‘red zone’’ to many major metropolitan areas including Lyon, Grenoble, Lille and Saint-Etienne in addition to Paris, Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. Residents of Toulouse protested on Friday, fearing their city would be included.