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Here's what government's weekly survey of the public's mood tells us about how we've handled the pandemic

From mask wearing and social distancing to staying in instead of going out, a lot has changed in the past year.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

THROUGHOUT THE COURSE of last year as we’ve lived with Covid-19, people in Ireland have reported experiencing stress almost as much as they experienced feelings of happiness on a daily basis, particularly as we entered Level 5 towards the end 2020.

That’s according to the Department of Health, which has commissioned weekly research since March on the public’s mood and adherence towards public health measures. 

It is one of several statistical resources for how the public’s mood has changed and adapted during the pandemic. 

From mask wearing to hand washing, from how you’re feeling to how others around you are feeling, and where you see the pandemic going from here are all included as part of this research.

The government has cited the likes of the CSO updates on public well-being as a factor in its decision-making, and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has often mentioned how the feedback in the Department of Health’s surveys has helped to inform its efforts to limit the spread of the virus. 

When we take a look at the department’s weekly update, compiled by Amarach Research, some trends emerge.

Mask wearing

Over time, it’s clear that public adherence to mask wearing had a sharp uptick once they become compulsory on public transport and in retail settings. 

In May, 22% of adults reported wearing a face mask when in public places. This rose to 37% in June before jumping to 70% in July.

By August, 89% of adults were reporting that they wore face masks when in public places. 

face masks

This has remained consistent in recent months, hovering around the 90% mark. 

Within the data, there’s also a gender disparity in terms of mask wearing.

On 8 June, 22% of men said they wore masks in public places while 34% of women said they did. On 23 November, 85% of men said they wore masks in public places compared to 95% of women. 

In early July, there was also a sharp disparity between mask wearing in shops compared to public transport.

On 13 July, 26% of people said they worse a face mask while shopping. This is now above 95%. On the same date in July, however, this figure was already at 81% for public transport users. This too is now in the high 90s. 

Staying in, not going out

The weekly research also looks at our own behaviours and what people say they’ve been doing to adhere to the guidance.

It appears the messaging early on in the pandemic – wash your hands and social distance – began to get through early.

By the time the weekly surveys started in March, 92% of people said they were washing their hands more as a result of Covid-19. 

In March, 84% of people said they socially distanced from others when in a queue. This rose to 90% by May and has remained in the mid-90s since then. 

Coughing into your elbow is something that has seen a little less compliance over time. In April 77% of people reported doing so more as a result of Covid-19. This hasn’t risen by beyond 85% at any stage. 

When asked if people sat further apart from others, 54% said they did in March. That’s rose beyond 70% by July and was 74% at the beginning of December. 

safe behaviours

In the early days of the pandemic, more of us were contacting older relatives and friends to see if they were okay. In April, 71% of people reporting doing this more. This dropped to 56% by the beginning of December. 

One figure which has fluctuated considerably over the last 10 months is how many people stayed at home rather than going out.

In April, 90% of people said they were staying home instead of going out. This dropped to 83% in May, again to 71% in June and hit 65% in July just as hospitality businesses started to open again. 

However, as these businesses began to close again in October, the percentage of people staying at home rather than going out shot up again.

By November, it was 83% and heading into December it had reached 80%. 

Emotional well-being

Another element of the research has focused on how people are feeling during the pandemic.

Participants are asked if they felt a particular emotion a lot the day before they’re interviewed.

When asked if they felt enjoyment, only 36% of people said they had in March. This rose to just over 50% in the summer months before dipping again in the autumn as fresh restrictions were brought in. 

At the beginning of December, 47% of people said they’d enjoyed themselves the previous day. 

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Figures for worry and anxiety regularly fluctuated, but remained within the 30-35% mark in recent months. 

And, in terms of boredom, as we might expect it was lowest during the summer months with fewer restrictions (at around 20% of people) and higher during period of lockdown restrictions (reaching 36% of people in mid-November). 

Around one-third of people regularly felt frustration over the past 10 months, as well as stress but also happiness according to the research.

emotional wellbeing

In March, April and May, around one in five people were experiencing feelings of loneliness. Again, as restrictions eased the number of people reporting loneliness dipped as well to 15% in July and August. 

As restrictions were re-introduced, feelings of loneliness were again reported by around 20% of people. 

In low numbers, people also reported feelings of fear and anger in recent months. In November, the researchers began to ask people if they were feeling hopeful. Since that question was introduced, more people have been feeling hope than fear or anger. 

In future

When it comes to how the pandemic will affect behaviours in future, the kinds of things people say they will still do even if/when Covid-19 is no longer a threat has stayed fairly steady. 

91% say they’ll wash their hands more even following the crisis, while 69% say they’ll social distance when queuing. A further 58% say they’ll sit further apart from others when outside or on public transport while 35% of people say they’ll stay in more often rather than going out. 

future behaviours

During each interview, participants are asked if they think the worst of the crisis in Ireland is ‘behind us, ahead of us or happening now’. 

In March, 85% of people felt the worst was ahead. This fell to just 37% in April and 18% in May. However, in July that began to rise again. By October, 46% of people said they felt the worst was ahead.

Heading into December that figure was 27%. 

In a similar vein, in June 56% of people said they felt the worst of the pandemic was behind us. This fell drastically in subsequent months, reaching 11% of people in October. Heading into December, 32% of people said they felt the worst was behind us.

With 2021 now ahead, whether we’ve been through the worst or have the worst ahead of us remains to be seen. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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