Economic and social impacts of COVID-19 and public health measures: results from an anonymous online survey in Thailand, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Italy and Slovenia
Osterrieder A., Cuman G., Pan-ngum W., Cheah PK., Cheah P-K., Peerawaranun P., Silan M., Orazem M., Perkovic K., Groselj U., Schneiders ML., Poomchaichote T., Waithira N., Asarath S-A., Naemiratch B., Ruangkajorn S., Skof L., Kulpijit N., Mackworth-Young CRS., Ongkili D., Chanviriyavuth R., Mukaka M., Cheah PY.
In the absence of a vaccine and widely available treatments for COVID-19, governments have relied primarily on non-pharmaceutical interventions to curb the pandemic. To aid understanding of the impact of these public health measures on different social groups we conducted a mixed-methods study in five countries (‘SEBCOV - Social, ethical and behavioural aspects of COVID-19’). Here we report the results of the SEBCOV anonymous online survey of adults. Overall, 5,058 respondents from Thailand, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Italy and Slovenia completed the self-administered survey between May and June 2020. Post-stratification weighting was applied, and associations between categorical variables assessed. Among the five countries, Thai respondents appeared to have been most, and Slovenian respondents least, affected economically. Overall, lower education levels, larger households, having children under 18 in the household, being 65 years or older and having flexible/no income were associated with worse economic impact. Regarding social impact, respondents expressed most concern about their social life, physical health, and mental health and wellbeing. There were large differences between countries in terms of voluntary behavioural change, and in compliance and agreement with COVID-19 restrictions. Overall, self-reported compliance was higher among respondents reporting a high understanding of COVID-19. UK respondents felt able to cope the longest and Thai respondents the shortest with only going out for essential needs or work, with 60% and 26% respectively able to cope with 29 days or longer. Many respondents reported seeing news that seemed fake to them, the proportion varying between countries, and with education level and self-reported levels of understanding of COVID-19. Our data showed that COVID-19 public health measures have uneven economic and social impacts on people from different countries and social groups. Understanding the factors associated with these impacts can help to inform future public health interventions and mitigate their negative consequences on people’s lives. Summary What is already known? COVID-19 public health measures and lockdowns most negatively affect those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. Misinformation about COVID-19 is widespread. What are the new findings? In the countries in which we conducted our survey, lower education levels, larger households, having children under 18 in the household, being 65 years or older and having flexible/no income were associated with worse economic impact. There were large differences between countries in terms of voluntary change of behaviour, as well as compliance and agreement with COVID-19 related public health measures. Younger age and lower education levels appear to be associated with lower self-perceived levels of understanding of COVID-19. A significant proportion of the population received conflicting information and news that seemed fake to them, in particular about coronavirus being an engineered modified virus. What do the new findings imply? Our findings imply that there are significant differences in how people from different social groups and different countries experienced COVID-19 and related public health measures, and any support initiatives should take this into account. Our findings confirm that communication around COVID-19 could be improved, and help identify specific areas to target (e.g. origin of virus) and specific groups of people who may benefit most from improved communication (e.g. younger people, those with lower levels education).