South Africans are less afraid of the coronavirus and have been engaging in risky behaviour, such as not wearing masks.
On Thursday, the Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg (UJ) in partnership with the Development, Capable and Ethical State of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) released the latest summary findings from the UJ/HSRC Covid-19 democracy survey.
These findings illustrated, among other things, that there is a growing pandemic fatigue and greater complacency in compliance with public health measures, increasing the unnecessary risk of exposure to Covid-19 during the lower lockdown levels.
The latest findings come from round 2 of the UJ/HSRC Covid-19 democracy survey, which was conducted between 3 July and 8 September, during which time South Africa's alert levels were gradually relaxed. The data for the second round comprised 7 966 respondents. Findings have been weighted to match Statistics South Africa data on race, education and age, and can be regarded as broadly representative of the population at large.
The survey was conducted through an online survey using the popular data free Moya Messenger app, which has two million active users. Participants are able to respond to the survey data free on the app as well as through a data free link, which has been enabled by biNu, parent company of Moya.
The key findings demonstrate:
Four in ten adults believe the threat of the coronavirus is exaggerated
During the hard lockdown, in April, about a third (31% to 33%) believed the threat posed by the pandemic had been overstated. By September, this had grown to 41%.
One in three adults do not always wear a mask when leaving home
In early April, only 37% wore a mask when they went out. This rose to just more than 70% in July, August and September. Among the other 30% of adults, 20% said they wear a mask "most of the time" and about 7% "some of the time". Only 2% revealed they never (or not often) wear a mask and 1% did not want to say.
Fear of Covid-19 is declining
The survey showed frequent feelings of fear remained at a consistently high level from April through July, ranging between 44 % and 47%. However, this fell to 31% during August and early September. While nonetheless high, this was a considerable decline, and was of importance when considering parallel changes in risk perception measures.
Trust in the president is declining
While the findings showed that 65% of adults believed President Cyril Ramaphosa was doing a good job in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, this had declined by 20 percentage points from the round 1 survey findings during the Level 5 lockdown. This is important as there is strong evidence to suggest that trust in the government has an important bearing on general compliance with public health measures.
Carin Runciman, associate professor at the Centre for Social Change, said: "The findings point to a worrying growth in pandemic fatigue. The greater number of people that do not comply with public health measures, such as wearing masks in public, the greater the likelihood of a second wave in infections, as is currently occurring in Europe and the US. There is a need for strong and continued public health messaging that the threat posed from the virus is not over even though we are now at a lower alert level."
These and other findings combined point to "pandemic fatigue", the researchers said. This was important to take note of as any premature reduction in preventative behaviours posed a significant challenge in our ability to combat the virus.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chair of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory group, has similarly warned about complacency, mass gatherings and eased travel restrictions as factors that are increasingly likely to make a second wave in the country inevitable.