Fears we may throw away our progress

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So, are we out of the woods yet? With many of the restrictions lifted over the past couple of months, it is timely to gauge how the public perceives where we are on our Covid-19 journey, and how we feel about our progress.

ith this in mind, Kantar surveyed the country in our sixth study of Ireland’s response to Covid-19. This research was conducted over five days up to Monday of last week.

On the face of it, we are undoubtedly more upbeat but recognise the challenges which still lie ahead.

While the situation continues to stabilise, there are some red flags apparent. Nearly two in three (64pc) express themselves to be concerned with the situation. While still obviously high, this is a marked improvement from where we were at the outset – back in March, 87pc were of this opinion, with 61pc being most vociferous. We have learnt to adapt as we understand more. That fear of the unknown has dissipated.

This is also reflected in the fact the day-to-day impact is becoming less pronounced. We have evolved in our lifestyles, and, for many, there is also a sense of “normality” returning. In addition, we are less fearful of becoming sick.

But we continue to be extremely pessimistic about the future economic impact – we feel we are on a shoreline, looking quizzically at how the fiscal sea has retreated and all the while wondering what type of economic tsunami is going to come over the horizon. Fewer than one in five of us (19pc) believes the economy will recover quickly. Some 65pc of us are more downbeat.

The overall figures only tell half the story – they mask the generational schism in our society. Younger cohorts are consistently more upbeat about the pandemic itself and the health implications. Conversely, they are far more concerned about the economic implications and fear more for the future in general.

Their attitudes towards Covid as a disease adds weight to the observation from Nphet last Thursday that the increase in cases is now being largely driven by the young – 77pc of cases announced that day were among those under the age of 25. It seems many of them, both attitudinally and behaviourally, have taken their foot off the pedal while older cohorts are keeping their guard up.

There has been a worrying uptick on the R number, the level of transmission a carrier passes on. While the base numbers are relatively small, it is one metric health officials are wary of. With that in mind, we asked how the public feel towards social distancing.

We generally adhere to the rules – two in three (67pc) claim they get angry when people do not comply with social distancing measures. That has remained constant since our last study in June. Again, the age conundrum surfaces. Only 59pc of 18-24-year-olds endorse this statement, compared with 81pc of those over 55. It would seem there is a communication deficit among younger cohorts which needs to be addressed.

The issue of face masks has come to the fore more recently. While, thankfully, they have not been politically weaponised as we have seen in the US, there is still a sense of confusion over their role.

We are curiously ambivalent towards the use of face masks. When asked if people get angry when they see people someone else not wearing one in crowded places or on public transport, only half (52pc) agree. It seems the public hasn’t really paid heed to this edict. Given that it will be mandatory to wear them on public transport from tomorrow, it will be interesting to see what levels of compliance will be. Again, the generational divide comes into play – 45pc of 18-24-year-olds object to people not wearing a mask, against 67pc among those aged over 55.

Approval of the Government’s response to the pandemic has remained steady, with 77pc endorsing the actions taken. However, there continues to be a subtle shift within these figures.

We are increasingly likely to voice our approval in somewhat more tepid language – “somewhat approve” as opposed to “strongly approve”. Fatigue is arguably at play.

Most interestingly and indicating that, for all our optimism, we still recognise the gravity of the situation, there has been an increase in those feeling we are being too hasty in our approach towards lifting restrictions – the experiences of other countries weighs heavily on our minds.

In June, only 14pc believed that we were being too hasty in our approach. This now stands at 37pc. Half of us believe the restrictions are being lifted at the right pace.

It seems we are comfortable with what we have achieved so far, but are fearful that we could throw it all away.

Paul Moran is an associate director with Kantar

Source: Irish News