A new report has compiled survey data on almost half a million people across nine countries to investigate how they responded to government policies.
Led by Imperial’s Institute of Global Health Innovation in collaboration with YouGov, the survey launched in April 2020 in response to the pressing need for consistent, reliable and timely data on people’s behaviours and attitudes in relation to the pandemic.
Initially spanning 29 countries, the initiative ran bi-weekly nationally representative surveys of thousands of individuals aimed at investigating whether public health measures and guidelines would be effective at curbing the virus’ spread and how restrictions might impact individuals and society more widely.
Key areas examined by the survey include perceptions surrounding COVID-19 vaccines, opinions of government and health systems, and adherence to protective measures such as face mask wearing and avoiding interacting with people. Highlighted findings include greater trust in vaccines but a decrease in confidence in governments’ pandemic handling.
"This programme brought together behavioural scientists, health researchers, data analysts, governments and policy experts to form a truly unique global dataset." Sarah P. Jones Institute of Global Health Innovation
All data have been made publicly available and have enabled the team and other researchers to delve deeply into how the pandemic and related policies have affected people across the world. These insights have been disseminated through over 45 policy reports and more than 70 academic publications, in addition to worldwide media coverage.
The latest report includes data highlights from nine countries as these had continuous data over the two-year period, which were: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Sarah P. Jones, doctoral postgraduate researcher at the Institute of Global Health Innovation and study co-lead, said: “This programme brought together behavioural scientists, health researchers, data analysts, governments and policy experts to form a truly unique global dataset, enabling policymakers to understand what works and assess the impact of the measures they implemented to ease the burden of the pandemic.
“Our efforts have reinforced the importance of open data in tackling global challenges, especially in times of emergent threat. We hope that this work serves as a template for similar initiatives and collaborations in future, which are vital to nations’ health security.”
Attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccines
The report found that overall, trust in COVID-19 vaccines increased or remained high from December 2020/January 2021, although in Japan and France, almost half of respondents said that they don’t trust COVID-19 vaccines. There have also been decreases across countries in the number of people who worry about potential side effects from vaccination. Yet concern over side effects remained the leading reason unvaccinated people gave for not taking the vaccine.
Generally, respondents across the surveyed countries disagreed with mandatory vaccination for all adults and young people, although there was support for vaccine passports for travellers entering or leaving their country.
Trust in governments and health systems
Apart from Japan and France, people’s perceptions of how well their governments handled the pandemic has worsened. The UK had the second lowest opinion of their government’s response, after Germany, with 57% of respondents saying it was handled badly. Out of the nine countries, there were four where over half of their population agreed it was handled well: Australia (57%), Canada (59%), Italy (59%), and Denmark (71%).
Similarly, people’s confidence in their healthcare systems’ ability to handle an outbreak has declined over the past two years, although it has remained high. As of March 2022, the countries with the highest confidence were Denmark (81%), Spain (76%) and the UK (72%).
Adherence to public health guidelines
People’s adherence to public health measures have risen in some cases while fallen in others. Face mask usage for example increased over time generally and specifically on public transport, although there was a decline in the last months of survey collection. Italy, Japan and Spain had the highest proportion of people always or frequently reporting wearing one outside the home or on public transport, at over 90%.
"I hope these findings will prove useful for those who shape and implement our ongoing response to COVID-19 and guide us on approaches to take in future pandemics." Prof David Nabarro Institute of Global Health Innovation
Conversely, over time people became less willing to self-isolate if told to do so, and less likely to avoid public transport, contact with people who might have COVID-19, and travelling outside their local area.
Professor David Nabarro, Co-director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation said: “People’s choices around the COVID-19 outbreak, driven by societal norms, mandates and public understanding, has had a profound impact on how the virus behaves.
“The data suggests that working with communities and partnering around shared goals is the likely to be most effective, especially if people are trusted to make the best choices for themselves and others.
“I hope these findings will prove useful for those who shape and implement our ongoing response to COVID-19 and guide us on approaches to take in future pandemics.”
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