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New Zealand is done thinking about Covid-19, finds government study

We’re happy following the rules, but we don’t want to follow them. We like the border being closed, but we expect to travel. A government study on Covid-19 attitudes finds the country is over it, reports Justin Giovannetti from parliament.

Yeah, nah. That’s pretty much the feeling New Zealanders have towards Covid-19, a new study has found, with about half the country responding to the global pandemic with a shrug and question about when the rugby is supposed to start.

Part of the attitude is self-explanatory. The country has run one of the world’s most effective responses to Covid-19, beaten back a number of flare-ups and lived a restriction-free life for most of the pandemic.

Despite that, there’s a sense of “Covid-19 fatigue” in New Zealand, according to a study of the country’s attitudes released yesterday by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The research underlines some of Jacinda Ardern’s choices around the virus and shows widespread public support for her decision-making.

“New Zealanders have adapted to living in a restricted bubble for the most part and are feeling content,” concludes part of the research, which was collected in March and May from over 1,800 people.

Fortress New Zealand has significant public backing.

Asked what they thought of the worst pandemic in a century, 44% of the country didn’t really have an opinion on Covid-19. Even the report’s writers seems a bit amused by the country’s “quite passive” attitude.

Any why’s that? Because we’re all pretty sure the fair ship New Zealand is steaming in the right direction.

About 75% of New Zealanders feel the country doing fine, getting better every day, and Covid-19 has all but disappeared from their thoughts about the future. 

The upbeat mood is reflected in what people are thinking about: spending time with friends and family, relaxing, going on a local vacation, maybe hitting the gym or trying a diet. This is not a country that’s preoccupied with a deadly virus.

Leading the charge towards optimism is the country’s greatest influencer, Ashley Bloomfield. The director general of health has the ear of 55% of the country, followed by the prime minister at 48%.

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield arrive at the Beehive press conference to announce a decision on alert levels, February 2021 (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Reflecting our nonchalant mood, the government is getting a mixed message at the border.

More than half the country, 53%, isn’t very interested in opening the border towards travellers coming from beyond Australia and the Cook Islands. A large majority, 84%, approve of the government’s move to stop travel from high-risk countries.

Despite that, 23% of people are looking forward to an overseas holiday over the next year and 19% expect friends and family to visit from overseas.

There are some who aren’t happy, with 12% of New Zealand thinking the country is going the wrong way. The small group has some clear similarities, according to the research: they are generally self-employed, feel life is worse now than a year ago and aren’t sure they are getting the right information about vaccines and the pandemic from official sources.

The research does highlight that vaccines are increasingly on our minds.

When first asked in March, about a quarter of the country had thoughts about the vaccine programme. That’s now about 40% and rising.

Interestingly, New Zealanders don’t see vaccines as a return to pre-pandemic living. About 91% don’t expect life to return to normal after they are vaccinated.

The country is also pretty relaxed about lockdowns as well. Most say they are content to follow the rules. Why? Well, for 56% it’s because they want to follow the rules, 46% feel a vague sense of duty about it, 48% just don’t want another lockdown and 42% admit to doing it to protect their friends and families. That last one is particularly strong with Māori and Pacific communities, and frankly, it just makes sense.

While people say they’re willing to do their part to avoid Covid, the research does show a sizeable minority isn’t all that interested. A quarter of people will go to work if they feel sick, 21% won’t wear a mask on public transit, more than a third of the population won’t scan using the Covid tracer app and nearly 40% don’t want to turn on the app’s passive Bluetooth function.

A new campaign to get people scanning was launched yesterday as well, along with the report, because app use is abysmal with less than 750,000 scans most days.

There were some differences between populations.

Māori are generally content with their lives and the government’s handling of the pandemic, but it’s also the most concerned group, with 11% feeling fear towards the virus, compared to 6% in the general population.

The Pacific population is less likely to follow Covid rules. “They have lower levels of compliance either because they just don’t do it, or they aren’t aware of the rules, influenced by non-government information sources,” according to the research.

The country’s Indian population has high hopes about border reopening and that could pose a problem for the government, with the study telling officials to more “proactively manage expectations” within the group.

Men under the age of 35 present a bit of a contradiction. They’re ridiculously positive about the future and the end of the pandemic, while being significantly less likely to follow Covid-19 restrictions or even recognise the country’s Covid branding. Why? “I guess they kind of feel bulletproof,” said an official this morning.




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