By Barbara Prainsack, Bernhard Kittel, Sylvia Kritzinger, and Hajo Boomgaarden, on behalf of the Austrian Corona Panel Project, University of Vienna, Austria [contact: email@example.com]
Covid-19 wise, things could be better in Austria. New infection rates have risen throughout February, and while free testing opportunities are widely available, calling the vaccination rollout “slow” would be an understatement: Fewer than 6% of the Austrian population had received their first dose by 1 March. At the same time, as noted by Markus Pollak, Nikolaus Kowarz and Julia Partheymüller in part IV of the Austrian Covid-19 chronology, February has seen some distractions of the political leadership from crisis management: Tensions within the Conservative and Green coalition government have increased, due to (among other things) suspicions of corruption faced by Finance Minister Gernot Blümel, a member of the Conservative Austrian People’s Party led by Chancellor Kurz.
Trust in government, and in the public healthcare system
In our previous updates from the Austrian Corona Panel Project we already drew attention to the decreasing trust in the crisis management of the government. Our latest data collected in February shows that this decline is continuing: Trust in the federal government, and also in the public healthcare system, is considerably lower than at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Trust in the government has, however, dropped much more (from 75% in March 2020 to 38% in February 2021) than trust in the public healthcare system (from 80% to 63%).
Covid-19 “just a normal flu”? 16% still think it is
While the majority of the Austrian population considers the SARS-CoV-2 virus as more dangerous than the normal flu, 16% think otherwise. Views on this topic are associated with party choice and place of residence. For example, 30% of the voters of the right-wing Freedom Party, FPÖ, disagree that the virus causing Covid-19 is more dangerous than a regular flu; only 36% agree. Agreement is highest among voters of the two coalition parties — the Austrian People’s Party, ÖVP, and the Green Party — as well as the liberal party, NEOS. In terms of place of residence, Vienna has the highest proportion of residents that agree with the statement that SARS-CoV-2 is more dangerous, while the Southern Land of Carinthia has the lowest (followed closely by a number of other Länder). Unsurprisingly, respondents who do not consider the SARS-CoV-2 virus to be more dangerous than the flu are also less willing to adapt their lifestyles to contain the pandemic.
With a little help from my friends…?
During the first lockdown in March and April 2020, roughly 90% of our respondents said they never went out to see friends or relatives. By September 2020 — just before the second lockdown — only 16% had no social contacts in their personal lives; 84% were socially active. In January 2021, despite restrictions on movement being almost as strict as during the first lockdown, and kindergartens and schools offering only very limited services, only 49% said that they never went out to see friends and relatives.
This resonates with findings from our qualitative sister study showing how, already prior to the second lockdown in October 2020, many people felt too tired and depleted to stick to the rules. It also resonates with our own findings: in December 2020; one in two of our respondents said they could no longer (economically or emotionally) afford a quarantine (the number was higher among those who refrained from participating in mass-testing. This suggests that the logistical, social, and economical effects of a positive result felt more threatening to them than the health risks). In addition, our new data show that in February 2021, nine in ten (89%) believed that the crisis would last for more than six more months — and within this group, two thirds believed it would take a few more years. Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that many people try to create new rules and routines for themselves that they feel will enable them to the next phase of the crisis. Fewer and fewer trust that the political leadership will get it right.