On 22 October 2020 the Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg (UJ) in partnership with the Development, Capable and Ethical State of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) released the latest summary findings from the UJ/HSRC Covid-19 democracy survey. These findings illustrate, amongst other things, that there is a growing pandemic fatigue and greater complacency in compliance with public health measures, increasing the unnecessary risk of exposure to Covid-19 during the lower lockdown levels.
These latest findings come from round 2 of the UJ/HSRC Covid-19 democracy survey, which was conducted between 3 July and 8 September, during which time South Africa's alert levels were gradually relaxed. The data for the second round comprised of 7,966 respondents. Findings have been weighted to match Statistics South Africa data on race, education and age, and can be regarded as broadly representative of the population at large.
The survey was conducted through an online survey using the popular #datafree Moya Messenger app, which has 2 million active users. Participants are able to respond to the survey #datafree on the app as well as through the following #datafree link, which has been enabled #datafree by biNu, the parent company of Moya.
The key findings demonstrate:
- Four in ten adults believe the threat of the Coronavirus is exaggerated
During the hard lockdown, in April, about a third (31%-33%) believed that the threat posed by the pandemic had been overstated. By September, this had grown to 41%.
- One in three adults do not always wear a mask when leaving home.
In early April only 37% wore a mask when they went out. This rose to just over 70% in July, August and September. Among the other 30% of adults, 20% said that they wear a mask "most of the time" and about 7%, "some of the time". Only 2% revealed that they never (or not often) wear a mask and 1% did not want to say.
- Fear of Covid-19 is declining.
Our survey shows that frequent feelings of fear remained at a consistently high level from April through July, ranging between 44 % and 47%. However, this fell to 31% during August and early September. While nonetheless high, this is a considerable decline, and is of importance when considering parallel changes in risk perception measures.
- Trust in the President is declining
While our findings show that 65% of adults believe that the President is doing a good job in his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. This has declined by 20 percentage points from our round 1 survey findings during level 5 lockdown. This is important as there is strong evidence to suggest that trust in government has an important bearing on general compliance with public health measures.
Professor Carin Runciman, Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Change says, 'the findings point to a worrying growth in pandemic fatigue. The greater number of people that do not comply with public health measures, such as wearing masks in public, the greater the likelihood of a second wave in infections, as is currently occurring in Europe and the US. There is a need for strong and continued public health messaging that the threat posed from the virus is not over even though we are now at a lower alert level'.
These and other findings combined point to 'pandemic fatigue'. This is important to take note of as any premature reduction in preventative behaviours poses a significant challenge in our ability to combat the virus. Prof. Abdool Karim, chair of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory group, has similarly warned about complacency, mass gatherings and eased travel restrictions as factors that are increasingly likely to make a second wave in the country inevitable.