Sentiment and Behaviour surveys were carried out over ten days in July and September, following earlier benchmark surveys in March and May, with the recent research providing insights into sentiment towards lockdowns, the vaccine rollout, and how people have been feeling in relation to the behaviours expected of them during higher Alert Levels.
A series of smaller ‘pulse checks’ were also undertaken throughout August to understand Alert Level 4 sentiment and behaviours.
This research was carried out before Government announcements on the next chapter for New Zealand’s response to COVID-19, with the transition from the Alert Level system into the COVID-19 Protection Framework.
While the September research showed respondents were supportive of the response to COVID-19, and believed Alert Level settings were the best approach at that time, a feeling of fatigue around the situation was setting in, and 27% of people reported they felt sad, up +12 since July.
‘Not knowing when we will return to normal’ was a top 5 concern in September, with 47% of people citing it as a top-of-mind impact of COVID-19, up +14 since July.
Concerns also rose in September around the long-term impacts of COVID-19 compared to July, including access to education (+17), mental health impacts (+13), and the welfare of lower socio-economic areas (up +12).
“Since the pandemic began, a constant challenge has been the unknowns – what will the virus do to us, what will it mean for our whānau, our communities, and our businesses, what will it mean for our future plans,” says COVID-19 Group Deputy Chief Executive Cheryl Barnes.
“The September research reflects a difficult time for many of us, with Alert Level 4 restrictions in place in Auckland, the rest of New Zealand at Alert Level 2 after three weeks at higher Alert Levels, and with much uncertainty and concern around the Delta outbreak and the next steps.”
People were however feeling increasingly positive about the vaccine rollout as it ramped up, with 82% saying they think the rollout is going really well or okay, and the number of those in the ‘Unlikely’, ‘Unengaged’ and ‘Rejector’ groups falling to 12% in September, compared to 20% in July.
The research also showed a rise in people expecting to continue to need to carry out important COVID-19 health behaviours even after they are fully vaccinated.
“Vaccination is one of the most important tools we have to protect ourselves and our whānau from the virus, but we know using the whole toolbox is fundamental to reducing the impact of COVID-19 on our lives,” says Cheryl Barnes.
“This research shows more people understanding that vaccines combined with other measures – like face coverings, record keeping and monitoring symptoms – give us the best protection.”
Overall in September around 70% of people reporting feeling the country is heading in the right direction with the COVID-19 response, a drop from 75% in May when the country was at Alert Level 1, but a figure that stayed relatively stable throughout the survey period.
The Reconnecting New Zealanders strategy released in August has also provided a level of reassurance for people about the future. Of those who are aware of the ‘Four-Phase plan, 33% are also concerned with ‘not knowing when we will return to normal’, compared to 47% of people generally.
“As the response to COVID-19 evolves and important decisions are made, insights from research like this will continue to inform engagement and communications activity,” says Cheryl Barnes.
This includes the opportunity to look at how different parts of the community respond to different messaging, so that we can make sure everybody has access to clear and accurate information, on platforms and channels that suit them.
The research involved interviews with a nationally representative sample of New Zealanders aged 16 years and over via an online survey, with 827 people surveyed in July and 846 people surveyed in September.