Actionable insights for policymakers
BehavioursWorks is leading the Australian chapter of the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) project, which aims to give policymakers actionable insights into public attitudes and behaviours relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Written by Emily Grundy and the SCRUB media team (Peter Slattery, Georgia Buckland, Sanjana Suresh Babu, Marta Mangiarulo, Piper Oren and Christina Dillon).
More than 120 international collaborators are involved in the project and over 6,000 surveys have been completed by people from more than 40 countries (including many repeat respondents).
The survey measures behaviour, behavioural drivers, COVID-19 attitudes and beliefs, and demographic variables. Outputs include:
The following are a few findings from the fourth wave of Australian data, collected between 01/06/2020 – 12/06/2020 and funded by the Victorian Government.
As we continue to be inundated with reports of COVID-19 cases, recommendations, and the latest updates on restrictions, SCRUB has been collecting data on the personal protective behaviours Australians are maintaining.
Results from Wave 4 indicate that, at the start of June, most Australians reported high levels of compliance with the majority of recommended protective behaviours.
For example, 82% of participants report maintaining good hand hygiene and 90% say they are keeping physical distance in public.
Uptake of the COVIDSafe app still requires some attention, with 53% of respondents reporting that they sometimes, rarely, or never use it in public.
Australian states are easing restrictions, with each state embarking on this process differently.
In Victoria, for instance, citizens are now allowed to hold private gatherings of up to 20 people in their homes (revised down to 5 as of 23 June), with physical distancing still being advised.
In light of these changes, SCRUB asked participants about their socialising patterns over the last seven days. The majority of participants (approximately 78%) reported having social contact with friends or family in the past week.
Those who did engage in social activities, 80% said that this was in person and in a private space on at least one of those days. Figure 1 provides a breakdown of how many people were keeping physical distance during these private gatherings.
Figure 1. Percentage of respondents who maintained physical distance from friends and family at gatherings.
Figure 1 indicates that nearly half of Australian respondents reported that they always keep physical distance during gatherings with friends and family.
Still, 21.2% reported ‘sometimes’, ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ complying with this protective behaviour.
While SCRUB relies on self-report data, these indications of compliance are crucial to understanding how easing restrictions affects behaviour and transmission risk.
SCRUB data suggests that people working exclusively in person (39%) are still a minority of the population, with most reporting either working remotely, or in a combination of the two settings (see Figure 2).
Intentions to work in person for the week following the survey increased, but only slightly. It is expected that as restrictions ease, as the risk of transmission decreases, this trend will continue.
Figure 2. Behaviours and intentions regarding work setting.
With many Australians still being advised to work remotely if possible, it is important to understand what factors drive compliance with this advice. Figure 3 captures several of these.
Figure 3. Drivers of working remotely.
As seen in the above figure, respondents reported that the main driver of working remotely was being asked to do so.
Over a third of workers (35%) also reported that they were more likely to work from home because there was less risk associated with that setting. Slightly less common was preference—33% of all workers reported preferring to work from home. Difficulty accessing the usual workplace (11%) and the fit with non-work lifestyle needs (16%) were the least common drivers.
While organisations and businesses must be aware of what initiatives encourage working from home at present, it is also important to understand what a return to normality would involve in the future.
With this forward-looking approach, SCRUB asked workers about how certain measures could impact and encourage their return to the workplace (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. Ratings of measures to encourage a return to the workplace.
The majority of workers reported that providing hand sanitizer in common areas in their workplace would make them more likely to work in person (68%).
This was closely followed by more frequent and intensive workplace cleaning, which was endorsed by 65% of workers. Staggered start times for staff was less popular, with 48% reporting that this would have no impact on their decision to return to the workplace.
Of note is that, while 44% of respondents suggested that the common use of the COVIDSafe app would be an encouraging factor, SCRUB found that over half of participants report sometimes, rarely, or never using the app.
The criteria, which has to be met to get tested for COVID-19, has been broadened, with Federal Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy stating that “anybody with acute respiratory symptoms, cough, sore throat, runny nose, cold symptoms, flu-like symptoms, can get tested”.
Figure 5 shows how Australian participants who have had cold or flu symptoms in the last week are behaving.
Figure 5. The behaviour of respondents who had cold or flu-like symptoms in the past week.
As seen in Figure 5, only a small number of participants had cold or flu-like symptoms in the past week (6%).
Of those, only 30% got tested for COVID-19. Most Australian participants (93%) who got tested stayed home while waiting for their test results.
Around half of the participants (47%) attended work while they had these symptoms, despite repeated advice to stay home if feeling unwell.
Figure 6 shows that Australians are most worried about an economic recession, society becoming more selfish, and small companies failing.
Over half (61%) of respondents indicated that an economic recession worried them ‘a fair bit’, ‘a lot’ or somewhere in between, while less than 10% indicated they ‘don’t worry at all’.
Related to fears about an economic recession are the concerns of small companies failing and becoming unemployed.
Half of the respondents indicated they worry about small companies failing, and just over one-third (36%) indicated they worry about becoming unemployed.
Figure 6. What Australians are worrying about.
Restricted access to food supplies and schools closing for a long time are now less common worries, with most Australians (77% and 72%, respectively) indicating they ‘worry a little’ or ‘don’t worry at all’ about these issues.
Several insights and implications for policymakers emerge from this data:
You can access the survey and data here.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to use the SCRUB survey to collect data in your country or state (voluntarily or funded), or want access to the data.
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