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International COVID-19 tracker: how public opinion is responding around the world

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YouGov looks at attitudes and behaviour across 25 markets

With the COVID-19 outbreak continuing to dominate daily life across the globe, YouGov has been conducting a tracker study in 25 countries and regions looking at potential impact on everything from business, politics and everyday behaviour.

Every week YouGov will be providing a round-up of the most noteworthy changes in the data over the previous seven days. This first edition looks back over all the results we have gathered so far, stretching as far back as late February in some parts of the world.

Fear of catching COVID-19

For those most part those living in Asia and the Middle East are far more fearful of catching the disease – generally between 53% and 83% – than people in Europe and North America – generally between 27% and 45%.

 

Italy is a notable exception in Europe. The most recent survey there found almost three quarters of Italians either very or somewhat scared of contradicting the virus – unsurprising given a significant portion of the country is on lockdown.

It is also worth noting that results in the APAC nations have remained static or only risen relatively slowly since the first waves of the survey were conducted in late February. Concerns in those countries in Europe where two or more waves have been conducted show fear rising faster – for instance, the UK saw an increase from 24% to 48% between 1 and 20 March, and fear in Germany has risen from 21% to 37% between 4 and 16 March.

How COVID-19 has changed behaviour

The results also show that COVID-19 has had a greater impact on behaviour in Asia and the Middle East so far than it has in Europe and America.

The most visible difference comes down to face mask usage.

In almost all European countries, and the US and Canada, face mask usage is below 10%. In most Asian markets, however, it is around half or more, and rises as high as 80-86% in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Middle Eastern usage is slightly below the Asian range, at 35-39%.

 

Italy and Singapore prove outliers for their respective regions. Only 21% of Singaporeans say they are wearing face masks in public places – a figure that has remained consistent since the first survey there in late February.

Italians, on the other hand, are much more likely than their neighbours to wear face masks, with 59% saying they do so.

When it comes to avoiding tourists, again Asians and Middle Easterners (46-63%) tend to be ahead of the curve compared to their European and American peers (12-39%). This could of course be because there is a greater imperative to do so in Asia, where caseloads are highest and tourists are most likely to be from neighbouring countries.

 

Singapore once again stands out from the rest of the region, with only 34% saying they are avoiding physical contact with tourists.

The most common behavioural change just about everywhere is improved hygiene. The vast majority of people in Asian countries say they are now more fastidious in their cleanliness, with rates generally between 78-88% (although India is slightly lower on 69%).

 

Figures in the rest of the world are slightly more mixed, but still relatively high. In some countries like Italy, Norway and the UAE, as many people are boosting their sanitary efforts as are doing so in Asian countries.

Other countries like the US, France, Germany and Sweden are lagging, with 59-64% saying they are taking extra hygiene precautions. Some of these figures do represent big improvements, however: the US figures are up from 42% from the beginning of the month. Over the same time period, however, Germany’s has only gone from 60% to 63%.

The tracker also highlights the immense Asian shift in avoiding public places that took place between late February and early March. Six Asian markets – Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand – saw a 16 to 34 percentage point increase in the proportion of people avoiding crowds.

 

Attitudes in Indonesia are significantly different to the rest of its regional neighbours. At the time other Asian countries were seeing large numbers choosing to avoid crowded places, figures in Indonesia barely shifted from 26% to 31%. They have since risen to 51%, but this still puts them far behind their neighbours.

Measures supported to combat COVID-19

Distinctions between global regions are less obvious when it comes to support for measures national governments could take to combat the spread of the disease.

Generally speaking the most popular measures are to quarantine anyone who has come into contact with a contaminated patient, alongside banning and quarantining flights from China and other countries with COVID-19 cases.

Public opinion in Germany in particular has registered the most notable swing in favour of banning flights from the rest of the world. While only 29% of Germans supports banning flights from countries with COVID-19 cases at the beginning of March, this figure has since risen to 50%. Over the same time period, the number of Germans wanting to ban flights from China specifically has risen from 41% to 53%.

 

Malaysians too have become far more likely to want to block flights from other countries with COVID-19. On 24 Feb 47% of Malaysians wanted to ban flights from such countries; by 16 March that figure had risen 24 percentage points to 71%. Whilst there has not been such an extreme rise when it comes to flights from China specifically, that is only because Malaysians have consistently been the most likely to want to block such flights: 64% wanted to do so in late February, and 70% want to do so now.

 

Another noteworthy nation is Singapore, in which public opinion is becoming less supportive of many of these measures. Over the space of one week the proportion of Singaporeans wishing to see flights from China banned fell from 52% on 6 March to 40% on 13 March. Over the same time period support for blocking flights from all countries with coronavirus cases fell from 46% to 38%.

Support in Singapore for quarantining Chinese travellers has also fallen from 39% in late February to 23% now. Support for quarantining anyone who has come into contact with a contaminated patient has also fallen from a peak of 73% at the very end of February to 62% now.

 

Such shifts could be a result of the belief that Singapore has handled the crisis well, and the situation is being competently managed. However, case numbers have continued to rise since the last survey was conducted – next week’s edition of the tracker will reveal whether these figures represent a trend or get reversed.

The trackers show a huge shift in public desire in Asian markets for their respective governments to distribute free face masks. The shift took place between late February and early March – the same time people in these areas were also starting in large numbers to avoid crowded public places.

Figures rose by at least 24 percentage points in each market, with the increase particularly rapid in Malaysia (from 7% to 57%) and the Philippines (8% to 54%).

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