Photo Credit: Juliana Kozoski, Unsplash
One of the few positives of the COVID-19 global public health emergency has been many people reconnecting and checking in with friends, family and loved ones, and providing support through periods of self-isolation and lockdown.
From a professional, observational perspective, these conversations have provided much food for thought, as well as the source of valuable feedback: how the crisis is developing and being managed; the impact of various government crisis communications efforts; the impact on individuals; and attitudes to risk in applying official guidance.
In the spirit of sharing and studying these observations, Conduit Associates compiled a short survey of open questions, which invited participation via private social media channels. It was not scientifically designed, the results weren’t analysed by data scientists, and the information received has the sole purpose of gaining a snapshot of how the populace are being informed, emerging trends and similarities, and where different countries are with this crisis.
There are no underlying conclusions as each country is at a different stage of the crisis and the crisis management strategies vary. It does however reveal some common themes and behaviours, and the responses around trust are interesting.
An overview of the results:
Number of respondents: 29
Age range: 30 – 65
Period of Survey: 26 to 30 March 2020
Location of respondents:
Australia (3); Canada (1); Greece (1); Italy (1); Jamaica (1); Japan (2); Jordan (1); Malaysia (1); New Zealand (1); Portugal (1); Spain (1); Sri Lanka (1); Switzerland (1); UAE (2); UK (4); Ukraine (1); USA (6).
Q1: At what point did you realise your daily life was going to be, or is going to be, disrupted. How did you find out? (e.g. news announcement, social media, company email)
(This question was asked to better understand what the tipping point was for each individual, and which crisis communications method caused this.)
Most respondents realised the situation was going to impact their lives in early or mid-March. The exceptions were respondents in Malaysia, Japan and Italy, who realised in early February their lives would be impacted.
The point at which they found out included the following reasons:
- School closures and company staff switching to working from home
- Closure of tourism activities (skiing, diving, general tourism)
- Closure of day-to-day businesses (gyms, restaurants, events, general business activity)
- Cancellation of sports and business events directly impacting individuals
- Announcement of travel and/or flight restrictions, directly impacting individuals
Individuals learned of the direct impact on their lives via the following methods:
- Company emails
- Government and leadership announcements
- Mainstream news reports
- Social media
Q2: Are you following handwashing, social-distancing and self-isolation guidance? If so, what convinced you to comply?
(This question was asked to understand individual crisis response and how people’s behaviour has adapted in light of WHO guidelines and messages repeated by individual sovereign states.)
All confirmed they are following the handwashing guidance, with an even majority attributing this to common sense; being socially responsible; or increasing handwashing activity because of public information campaigns or news coverage. The remainder indicated they already follow a good handwashing routine because they are in the medical profession or have household members with medical considerations.
Social distancing was more erratic, as this has not been compulsorily introduced to every respondent’s country. In general, however, all respondents are observing this because it is the law; it is the socially responsible thing to do; or they understand the science behind it. Several countries also report supermarkets limiting entry and marking out queue lines two metres/six feet apart.
Portugal: “Yes, I only leave the house once a week for groceries, and to take my dogs to the forest. I understand that anyone can have COVID-19 and not know it, thereby inadvertently spreading it everywhere. In which case, the hospitals will get overrun – and that puts everyone at risk.”
USA: “Lots of handwashing, self-isolating when not at work, social distancing at work and sanitising doorknobs, handles, fridge and microwave twice per day. Common sense convinced me.
Q3: Have you engaged in panic-buying? If so, what prompted it?
(This question was asked to understand if this is an individual or cultural behaviour, and what the main influencers were for panic-buying?)
The majority did not panic-buy, stating they didn’t want to be part of the problem, they didn’t need to, or it was irresponsible.
A number reported measured, sensible shopping trips, buying one extra of staple provisions. This was consistent in Japan and Australia, where this is normal practice in the lead-up to cyclone season.
Only two stated they did panic-buy, citing the following reasons:
Spain: “Because I want to visit the supermarket as rarely as possible.”
Australia: “It was driven by the fact there were lots of empty shelves, and the fear of not getting what we wanted/needed when we wanted/needed it. In saying that, I’ve only got enough for a couple of weeks, not months and months.”
Q4: What are the restrictions if you are on lockdown, or have your freedom of movement severely curtailed? How did you find out about them? How clear were the restrictions?
(This question was asked to understand at which stage of the crisis each country was, how these restrictions were communicated and received, and if restrictions were consistent across the world.)
With the exception of Japan and Jamaica, all survey respondents reported they are living under lockdown measures, mirroring the extent to which COVID-19 is impacting them, particularly in the USA and European countries.
All respondents learned of the introduction of restrictions via national press briefings reported in mainstream media. Only one respondent found out via social media. The vast majority found the instructions clear.
The extent of these measures, and the restrictions that define them, do vary, but there are general consistencies, reflecting that WHO guidelines have been adopted by all to a greater or lesser degree:
- All have been advised or instructed to stay at home/remain at home in self-isolation
- The vast majority can only leave home for essential trips to obtain food or pharmaceutical supplies, walk dogs, or if identified as a key worker
- Several countries require documentation to leave the house if you are a key worker or have exemption (e.g. to feed livestock)
- Some countries permit limited daily exercise
- Two countries have a daily curfew
- All countries require social-distancing protocols to be observed when outside the home, including no mass gatherings.
Q5: To what extent do you trust the official information disseminated by your government sources?
(This question was asked to understand how the messaging was landing and influencing those in their countries of residence and identify any issues management trends. Trust is at the heart of effective crisis communications and mitigating risk in a crisis.)
100% trust or “totally”: 14%
70%-85% “mostly” trust: 54%
Fair levels of trust: 25%
Not answered: 7%
Respondents reporting 100% trust were in UK (Scotland), Switzerland, UAE and Greece (Crete).
Two respondents in the USA on the East Coast (New York State and Connecticut) responded that they didn’t trust the President, but they did trust official medical advice:
“I don't listen to the President and I don't trust his people: I listen to doctors”
“I don’t trust what our President is saying, but trust others”
Mixed responses mentioned distrust in the reported statistics, but acknowledged difficulties in reporting these:
USA: “Depends on the government entity and the info being disseminated. I think their info on numbers of positive cases is flawed, and politics is playing a huge part in how they're handling things – especially on our federal level.”
Japan: “I didn’t believe the numbers we had because we didn’t do enough testing to avoid the medical collapse. However, I think it was maybe a good idea after all not to cause panic in society.”
Malaysia: “Slightly suspicious of low numbers of deaths reported here, but other than that I am OK with this. Singapore has been very upfront and quick to act, and Malaysia often looks to them for guidance.”
Australia: “As much as you can when you know that everyone has no idea, and they are just making it up as they go along without causing panic.”
Italy: “I don’t distrust Italy. Whether it is correct is another matter.”
And one answer referenced China:
New Zealand: “I trust governments. Not China's government though.”
Q6: Have people gone nuts for toilet roll where you are?
(This question was to end the survey on a lighter note and to find out if the toilet roll phenomenon was global.)
The response was mixed, although the majority reported that toilet roll was in high demand or out of stock, with many sharing the dismay of general public opinion. It was also mentioned that it was less of an issue in countries where bidets are still used. However, the final word comes from my cousin in Canada:
“I didn't hoard toilet paper: we had a supply on hand. I'm not getting the toilet paper phenomenon, as I'm not sure how much you'd use in three weeks anyway! Instead, I filled up with gas, and stopped at the liquor store before I got groceries. People have different priorities!”
My thanks to all that took time to complete the survey.
World Health Organisation COVID-19 pages
Socially responsible toilet roll – toilet roll that builds toilets: