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New information following the change in COVID-19 alert levels. massey.ac.nz/coronavirus
It doesn’t take an epidemiologist to tell you that COVID-19 and its wide-reaching impacts aren’t going away any time soon. Neither does it need an economist to tell us that we are in it for a long haul – I mean the hardship heading our way!
What is important right now is to seriously pay attention to how are we as a nation and as a world reacting to this? And is Donald Trump right when he says, “It’s all over for New Zealand”?
Fortunately, we have some insights from Global Behaviours and Perceptions in the COVID-19 Pandemic survey from the Centre for Open Science, a large-scale survey that covers respondents from more than 170 countries. It helps to provide some insight into how individuals are feeling and behaving in the pandemic.
The survey shows similarities across most countries around people’s behaviour during the pandemic. For example, most thought that social distancing was effective, most people were more worried about the health of their family members than their own health. This is heart-warming indeed when thinking about those who are most vulnerable to the most severe impacts of COVID-19.
However, when comparing New Zealand and the United States there are some glaring differences that may be helpful for President Trump to consider before writing his next tweet and making another random claim without understanding whether things are really all over for New Zealand, or perhaps all over much closer to home.
In New Zealand, more than 90 per cent of respondents said that they believe the Government was truthful, trustworthy, and that the Government response was sufficient under the circumstances.
The opposite is true for the United States, with only 10 per cent believing that the Government’s response was appropriate, and 16 per cent believing that the Government was truthful. Let’s just let that sink in.
Now, as with any survey, it’s true that it is easy to counter with rhetoric or narrative that dismisses the validity of the survey, which may exclude a significant number of people.
Mind you, President Trump was able to say it’s all over for our nation when we have one of the lowest death rates in the world, and in fact our Prime Minister explained that the United States has 16,563 cases per million people – whereas we have 269. It is hard to see how this means that it is all over for New Zealand - but why let data get in the way of a good story? May be someone needs to brush up their calculation skills.
Overall anxiety levels
The survey investigated how respondents were feeling in the midst of the pandemic through the creation of an anxiety score. The anxiety looked at things such as nervousness, concern about health, and whether people felt comfortable leaving their homes.
The highest anxiety levels were experienced by female and single respondents. Female respondents were the most nervous about the pandemic, the health of their family members, and concerned about leaving the house.
How are we behaving as individuals?
During the pandemic advice from health professionals has been mainly consistent: practice social distancing, handwashing, and staying home. The vast majority of respondents kept to these guidelines. What seems to have been hardest is keeping two meters away from other people, with 88 per cent of single respondents unable to fully comply. We are social animals and that need for connection is certainly harder on those living alone not to mention the fact that in some cultures the notion of "social/physical distance" is a foreign concept.
One of the writer’s elderly family members, from the UK said, “Loneliness is killing my friends - including one friend lost to suicide at 89.” Some people return to work out of necessity even though it isn’t safe for them to do so. This is a harsh reality for people across the world and it is difficult to see how an extended period of isolation wouldn’t affect an individual’s wellbeing.
Comparing the team of five million here to the team of 328 million in the USA
So, how do the anxiety levels compare between NZ and the US?
The US is higher than the overall sample for all measures of anxiety, particularly around the feeling of anxiety itself, and a nervousness around their current circumstances and environment. New Zealand has a significantly lower level of anxiety being felt by the respondents than the US.
The current environment is tough without a doubt. 2020 has been, and continues to be, hard and it is not likely to lift our spirits in a hurry.
Hindsight can be seen as a curse in times of chaos and unpredictability, which is essentially what 2020 has been for the world so far. There was and will be no perfect response.
Regardless of your political leanings, the survey shows that Kiwi respondents had a high level of confidence in the Government’s response to this pandemic and lower levels of anxiety. A situation in contrast to the views of US respondents tells a different story.
Asking a team of five million to continue to be kind when people are financially, medically, and mentally vulnerable and tired will become harder as time goes on. There is no magic bullet (or vaccine) that ends this situation. All we can try and do is to keep taking one step, hopefully in the right direction.
Data from Global Behaviours and Perceptions in the COVID-19 Pandemic survey from Centre for Open Science. This large-scale survey covers respondents from more than 170 countries. The data was collected via snowball sampling starting March 20, 2020 through a survey instrument that was translated by volunteers into 69 languages. The data can be obtained from here: https://osf.io/zgfjc/ . The lock down related dates are obtained from Oxford Covid-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) and merged with the main data.
The writers wish to thank Dr Adnan Balloch from Massey University for providing data analysis and insights for this article.
Dr Pushpa Wood is the Director of Westpac Massey Fin-Ed Centre.
Sasha Lockley is the co-founder of Maaia Financial Wellness.
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Created: 25/09/2020 | Last updated: 25/09/2020
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