Most of the world doesn’t think social distancing will stop coronavirus, Ipsos poll says

At least 50 per cent of people in major countries around the world think that social distancing, travel restrictions and self-isolation will do little to stop the spread of novel coronavirus despite global consensus from health officials touting the opposite, a new Ipsos poll suggests.

Results from nearly 14,000 people surveyed across 14 countries between March 19 and 21 showed majorities in eight countries agreed that social distancing measures — such as travel bans and self-isolation — will not stop the viral outbreak.

In Canada, 59 per cent agreed the social distancing measures put forth by the government would work — a stark contrast to the United States, where 44 per cent of respondents said the measures would prove effective.

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Either on an individual or national level, Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos’ Public Affairs, said the results show people are not confident in isolation.

“These findings help to explain why isolation isn’t being obeyed in some countries. We are divided on whether or not it works,” said Bricker.

The poll found 62 per cent of people in Japan and 61 per cent in India disagreed that the government-mandated measures would work. The numbers dip to 59 per cent in Mexico, 56 per cent in Brazil, 55 per cent in Germany and Vietnam and 52 per cent in Australia.

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Even in countries once deemed the epicentre of the disease, there was still confusion. Only 61 per cent of those surveyed in China believed social distancing would stop COVID-19, and those numbers were lower in Italy, where only 57 per cent agreed. In France, that number sits at 56 per cent.

Bricker told Global News this was most likely related to whether the country was a “hot spot” for the virus. When it comes to places like China, “there’s not a lot of belief that isolation or any of these quarantine kind of things are actually going to work that well.”

“It stands to reason that in other places where people are more concerned about health, that they want more isolation and think it will work,” he said. 

Still, Bricker called the numbers “shockingly low,” and said one of the most surprising things about the poll results was the lack of individual accountability people had for their potential role in spreading the virus.

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“People think it’s actually other people doing it, it’s not them doing it,” he said, adding most think “this is something that other people are creating and they’re not really playing a role in it.”

Despite the world’s apparent lack of faith in social distancing, the poll showed a global consensus among people who believe their country’s borders should remain shut until the virus can be contained.

Between March 12 and 14, only 59 per cent of Canadians believed their borders should be closed. That number rose 28 points to 87 per cent between March 19 and 21, an increase that was mimicked in France.

Germany and the United Kingdom also saw a 23-point increase from one week to the next, while Australia saw a 14-point jump from 69 per cent to 83 per cent.

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Several countries that were closer to the epicentre of the outbreak saw little to no change in the span of two weeks. Japan remained steady at 66 per cent, while China only rose by two points to 75 per cent by March 21.

In the U.S., residents saw a slight change in thinking. Between March 12-14, only 63 per cent thought their country’s borders should remain closed. That number rose to 73 per cent the next week.

“While it might seem like a contradiction that we question whether isolation will stop the virus but still want closed borders, the public supports strong action from governments even if they might question its efficacy,” Bricker said.

The poll also suggested a substantial jump in four countries in the number of people who believed that COVID-19 could have a very serious to extremely serious effect on their health, however, the figures remain low compared to the anticipated impact on jobs.

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In Canada, the U.S., Germany and the U.K., the number of people who believed the virus would seriously impact their health increased by over 10 points. The sentiment is highest in China at 77 per cent and lowest in France at 20 per cent.

At the same time, the poll also showed a noticeable increase in the number of people who think the coronavirus poses a high threat to their job or business in all countries except Italy, which remained unchanged at 63 per cent in the span of two weeks.

The biggest increases were in the United Kingdom, which saw a 20-point rise to 55 per cent, and in Canada, where the number rose by 16 points to around 45 per cent.

Meanwhile, Japan is the only country with a decrease down two points to 32 per cent.

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Bricker said across the globe, people are more likely to perceive the pandemic as an economic issue, rather than a health issue.

Particularly in countries like Canada, Bricker said populations were more concerned about whether they were going to get laid off from their jobs or see economic disruption than they were for their health.

“The number on economic impacts is moving higher and it’s moving faster than what we’re seeing on the health impact,” he said.

“Even when people are looking at the healthcare issue, the reason they’re looking at the healthcare issue isn’t because they think their health is in peril.”

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