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Published March 4th 2020
As governments all over the world attempt to tackle coronavirus, we went to the UK public to find out their thoughts and views on this global health emergency.
Using Brandwatch Qriously, a member of the British Polling Council, we polled a representative sample of 2,031 UK adults (18 and over) via their smartphones and tablets between 27 – 29 Feb.
Here’s what we found out.
Fake news and unscientific claims have been rife since the outbreak, so we wanted to find out if Brits were getting their info from reliable places.
News outlets top the poll, so as long as they give out proper advice and information we should be good (some will be more reassured by this than others). Meanwhile, social media coming second could be a little worrying.
The main concern is that the government and health professionals, the ones we assume would have the most up-to-date and accurate information, come dead last.
We used BuzzSumo to see whose content was getting shared most engagement, and the result supported our survey responses.
The government’s own advice on coronavirus had 9.2k engagements across social media, the NHS’s just 3.8k. Meanwhile a Daily Mail article about Trump donating some of his salary to help fight coronavirus has 1.4m.
Make of that what you will.
Could this rattle the nation of the stiff upper lip?
A significant 56% of Brits are concerned about coronavirus. It’s also early days at the moment, so this might seem a conservative figure soon.
Tallying with this, 59% of people think there will be an epidemic in the country. This might be a redundant question before long.
We also found 65% of people thought it was very important that individuals took action to prevent the spread of the virus. But what were the people we asked actually doing themselves?
Worryingly this suggests 38% of people aren’t even washing their hands! When looking at gender, we also found that only 53% of men are doing so compared to 71% of women.
Let’s hope they’re still washing them in general, coronavirus or not.
Meanwhile only 16% of people aren’t doing anything, suggesting those people who claimed they weren’t concerned are still taking action anyway. We’d say that’s sensible.
Although 51% are essentially going about their business as usual, there’s some early warning signs here for the UK economy.
Over a fifth of Brits are avoiding UK tourist attractions, a further significant chunk are changing their shopping habits, passing on the cinema, and avoiding their favorite food delivery apps.
How much could this cost the industries concerned?
We turned to this ONS dataset on household spending to find out. By looking at weekly spend for certain products and subtracting the percentage of people avoiding them, we found that:
It’s not looking good for cinemas either. Based on March 2019 ticket sales, and an average price of £7.22, the industry will lose £11.4m in this month alone.
Meanwhile, using data from the Great British Tourism Survey, UK citizens will take 1.8m less trips this month.
These numbers are significant enough, but if cases continue to increase, the fears of a huge economic shock to the UK may well come true.
We also found that 63% of people think it’s very important for employers to take action against coronavirus. But what action did they want?
Hand sanitizer tops the list, but there’s also significant support for home working and supplying face masks (something the French government is now doing).
Some more extreme options, such as banning visitors and closing workplaces, saw some interest. As we’ve mentioned, we could still be in the early days, so this could signal what people will be calling for in larger numbers.
There’s also been a lot of talk about the effect of self-isolation and quarantine. For people who can work at home, with contracted hours, the answer is pretty simple: work from home.
For those who can’t, such as those in the fast food or care sectors, things get more difficult. Not only can they not do their job from home, but doing their job increases the risk of coronavirus spreading. Clearly if they must stay home they must miss work.
Luckily for them, we found that a vast majority of people want these people paid.
There’s a more difficult problem for those on zero hour contracts though. With no set amount of hours to work, how can they be recompensed for work missed? Their choice will be to work or not be paid. For many, the latter is not a viable choice at all.
A huge under-discussed problem relating to the Covid19 potential crisis is how to give confidence to those on low pay, especially the significant numbers on zero hours contracts in retail and hospitality, that if they self-quarantine they won’t suffer extreme hardship. I...— Robert Peston (@Peston) March 2, 2020
Finally we asked what the UK wanted their government to do. As cases have risen, PM Johnson chaired a COBRA meeting and decided on a plan.
For the most part it’s telling people to wash their hands, but there are a range of contingency actions at the ready in case things get much worse. At the moment, the name of the game is instilling calm and keeping things ticking along.
With 87% of people saying the government needed to be proactive, here’s what they wanted them to do.
There are huge calls for more testing and action at the UK’s border. Nearly 30% of people want everyone entering the UK quarantined, which would include holidaymakers, businesspeople, and delivery drivers. The disruption to the country’s economy would be unfathomable.
Clearly this is not an option the government will be taking any time soon, but they have spoken about travel restrictions within the UK. Nearly a quarter of Brits support this, and will be a more likely choice of action before mass quarantines.
Interestingly a fifth of people want the Euros 2020 cancelled. This year’s tournament is in a particularly hard position. Rather than taking place in a single country, it’ll take place across all of Europe.
It’s obvious that people in the UK want action, and it’s obvious the UK government will take it in some form or another.
Just as it is for the rest of the world’s leaders and politicians, the UK government faces balancing health, economy, and public opinion. Not exactly an envious position.
It’s a matter now of seeing what comes. If things continue to take a turn for the worse, the choices at hand become harder and fewer, for the people, their employers, and their government.