How has the pandemic changed Britons’ behaviours?

Isabelle KirkData Journalist
December 24, 2021, 8:50 AM UTC

The Covid-19 pandemic is about to enter its third year, and behaviours that would have seemed odd in a pre-pandemic world – masking, hand sanitiser, no handshakes, social distancing – have now become more common for many Britons.

Nearly three-quarters of the British public (71%) say they use hand sanitiser now more than they did before the pandemic, while around two-thirds (64%) say they are more likely to stay socially distanced from people they don’t live with.

Around half (51%) say they wipe down shopping trolleys or baskets in supermarkets more than they did before Covid-19, and more than a third (37%) say they are more likely to meet people outdoors, rather than inside.

Some habits that were previously common have been reduced by pandemic etiquette. Six in 10 Britons (62%) say they shake hands less now than they did before Covid-19, while more than half (54%) say they have cut down on hugging people they don’t live with.

Lifting restrictions has done little to change ingrained pandemic behaviours

July 2021 marked the easing of many restrictions, dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, when most rules about social contact were lifted in England and many restrictions in Scotland and Wales were also removed.

But it seems as if the lifting of restrictions has done little to change the behaviours of most Britons, with many increasing pandemic precautions as restrictions have eased.

Around four in 10 Britons (38%) say they use hand sanitiser now more than they did at the height of the pandemic when restrictions were strictest, while a third (34%) say they socially distance more than they did at the height of the pandemic and three in 10 (29%) say they wipe down trolleys and baskets more. A quarter (25%) say they meet people outdoors now more than they did when restrictions were strictest.

A third of Britons (34%) say they hug people less now than they did at the height of the pandemic, and 37% say they shake hands less.

Many Britons have kept pandemic behaviours consistent despite the easing of restrictions – 38% say they use hand sanitiser about the same amount as they did at the height of the pandemic, while this figure is 40% for meeting outdoors, 36% for social distancing, 32% for wiping down trolleys and baskets, 31% for handshakes and 31% for hugs.

Fewer than one in four Britons say they’ve become less cautious when it comes to these particular behaviours than they were at the height of the pandemic.

These results have not been affected by the emergence of the Omicron variant, with a YouGov poll on 1-2 December finding almost identical results.

The majority of Britons have had visitors since restrictions lifted

Since July 2021, most Britons have taken advantage of the lifting of rules preventing social gatherings indoors. Seven in 10 (70%) say they have had people who they don’t normally live with visit them indoors since restrictions were eased.

Out of these, a fifth (22%) say they have provided ventilation by opening doors and windows every time someone visits them to reduce the risk of coronavirus, and a quarter (25%) say they have done this most of the time they have visitors. Just one in nine (11%) say they have never provided ventilation for visitors.

See full results here