Public health messaging - COVID-19 compliance across the globe

December 03, 2020, 11:52 PM GMT+0

Data from YouGov and Imperial College London’s COVID-19 Monitor examines whether the international public are adhering to coronavirus rules and guidance

Among other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a window into how people behave and act in the midst of a crisis. Will they follow new guidance when it’s not strictly enforced – and when it is, how likely are the global public to adhere to the rules?

Since before the start of the pandemic, YouGov and Imperial College London’s COVID-19 Monitor has collected over 42 million weekly and monthly datapoints – including a range of data on attitudes towards COVID-19 compliance. As the crisis has progressed, this data has revealed how the public has responded when they are asked (or told) to adhere to certain preventative measures – and highlighted several national, regional, and cultural differences in the process.

What are the most common preventative behaviours?

Our study indicates that the most common preventative behaviour in Europe is hand washing: the lowest level of compliance (in the Netherlands) still approaches six out of ten people (58%), while the highest (Italy and Spain) amounts to over three-quarters (77%).

However, there is more variation among other behaviours: in Spain or Italy, for example, 45% of people said they were keeping children home from school or university – but just 2% of Finnish people said the same. Meanwhile, UK respondents are (along with Spain) joint most likely to say they’ve avoided having guests over, but just 14% of Dutch and Danish respondents say the same.

COVID-19 compliance in the APAC region is similarly diverse. While handwashing is once again among the top preventative behaviours – except in China, where just a third (33%) say they clean their hands with soap and water – the situation is less uniform in other areas. For example, nearly eight in ten (78%) respondents in India said they were avoiding sending their children to school/university compared to 11% in Japan, while almost half (48%) of people in the Philippines say they’re avoiding shops compared to just 14% of people in Indonesia and Japan.

Facemask compliance across the globe

Wearing a face mask has been a common preventive measure during the COVID-19 pandemic – one recommended by the WHO and enforced by many national governments.

Our data suggests that force is much more effective than recommendation in terms of ensuring compliance. In every region we track, most people – when asked when they would be willing to wear a face mask – say they would if “it was the law to do so”. APAC – an area that has been seriously affected by other coronaviruses such as SARS in the past – is the only region where a majority of every age group of the population says they would wear a face mask in every category we asked about.

There is, however, evidence to suggest that compliance increases with age in Europe and North America. Younger people, particularly in Europe and North America, are more likely to report that they are not willing to wear a face mask.

The main reason they offer is that they do not have any symptoms (40% Europe; 33% NA); most people are not wearing them (30% Europe; 16% NA); and a belief that masks are not an effective way to contain COVID-19 (22% Europe; 30% NA). A fifth of North Americans also say that they believe only sick people should wear face coverings.

With widespread opposition to wearing these masks, then, governments which wish to mandate their usage may have to impose stricter rules and regulations. If persuasion does not necessarily work, the law may have greater success.

That said, there is some reason for governments to be optimistic about COVID-19 compliance. Our data shows that, across the board, people are willing to wear face masks, and socially distance in future. If their actions do not always map neatly onto their intentions, there is at least a clear willingness to do better.

YouGov's COVID-19 Public Monitor can be found here

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