How Aussies changed their actions over COVID: study

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Heather McNab
(Australian Associated Press)

 

More than nine in 10 Australians at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic performed “avoidance behaviours” such as staying away from public areas or work, avoiding public transport and postponing events, new research suggests.

The study, published in journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday, surveyed 1420 Australians between March 18 and 24 about their attitudes and beliefs towards the health crisis.

UNSW lead author Dr Holly Seale said that while 50 per cent of respondents weren’t overly worried about the threat of COVID-19 to their personal health, more than 90 per cent said they had changed their behaviour to help stop its spread.

A total of 41.9 per cent of respondents perceived the level of COVID-19 risk as very low or low, with 37.6 per cent perceiving the risk as intermediate.

However the study found 93.4 per cent performed one or more of six avoidance behaviours such as avoiding public transport, public areas or work, and postponing events.

Some 84.9 per cent performed one or more of three recommended hygiene behaviours such as washing hands or covering a cough or sneeze.

More than 55 per cent used alcoholic hand gel or hand sanitiser more often, and 37.8 per cent increased the time spent cleaning or disinfecting items.

“We found – somewhat surprisingly – really good compliance with both the hygiene-related behaviours and the avoidance-related behaviours,” Dr Seale said in a statement on Wednesday.

Trust in government and health authorities was also found to be very high on COVID-19, with almost 94 per cent of respondents showing faith in health authorities’ recommendations.

The results suggest Australians could be more strongly motivated by a sense of social responsibility than by adherence to rules, Dr Seale said.

She added that clarity around hygiene and social distancing strategies was crucial for authorities to maintain high public support for COVID-suppressing measures.

This would be key as the COVID-19 curve flattens in most parts of Australia.

“People thought it was important to be a socially responsible person,” Dr Seale said.

“They wanted to conform with what was now being perceived as a social norm.”

KEY SURVEY RESULTS

* 41.9 per cent of respondents perceived the level of COVID-19 risk as very low or low

* 93.4 per cent performed one or more of six avoidance behaviours such as avoiding public transport, staying away from public areas or work, and postponing events

* 84.9 per cent performed one or more of three recommended hygiene behaviours such as washing hands or covering a cough or sneeze

* 56.8 per cent used alcoholic hand gel or hand sanitiser more often than usual

* 37.8 per cent increased the time spent cleaning or disinfecting things they might touch

* Almost 94 per cent displayed faith in health authorities’ recommendations

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