By Barbara Prainsack, Bernhard Kittel, Sylvia Kritzinger, and Hajo Boomgaarden, on behalf of the Austrian Corona Panel Project, University of Vienna, Austria [contact: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Austria is re-opening. Amidst concerns in other European countries about rising infection rates despite increasing levels of vaccination, as of mid May 2021, people in Austria can eat out, stay in hotels, and do most other things they did prior to the pandemic — if they can prove that they have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at least three weeks prior, or recovered from the disease, or taken a recent test (this is called the “3G” rule, short for German “geimpft, getestet, genesen — vaccinated, tested, recovered”). A further easing of the rules — mostly regarding the number of people allowed to gather in public as well as extending the curfew — has been announced for mid June.
What are the main findings of our Austrian Corona Panel Project since our latest update in early May?
First, the latest instalment of the Austrian Covid-19 chronology, covering the period February to March 2021, shows a couple of interesting trends. For example, despite shortages in supply, and despite levels of vaccine hesitancy that were considered concerning, the Covid-19 vaccination programme has progressed well; roughly 47% of all eligible people 16 years old or older had received their first dose by the end of May 2021 (up-to-date numbers are available here). Vaccines from BionTech/Pfizer accounted for about seven out of ten doses used.
In general, people’s willingness to get vaccinated is rising. The proportion of those willing to get a Covid-19 jab has increased continuously from January to April 2021. Importantly, we found that those who say they are willing to get vaccinated are, indeed, likely to actually do so.
In April, 59% of all respondents said they would want to get their jab as soon as possible — 12 percentage points more than in January. What has not changed is the negative attitude towards vaccine mandates; 53% keep opposing these. In terms of vaccine preferences, AstraZeneca remains the least popular one; 49% of our respondents would not want to receive it.
Among people who are hesitant to get vaccinated, we found that risk factors such as pre-existing conditions and older age did not affect vaccination uptake. This means that current vaccination incentives are not sufficient to change the minds of those who have concerns about vaccination. It remains to be seen how the easing of travel and other restrictions for vaccinated people will affect vaccination uptake across all groups.
People’s willingness to change their lifestyles to comply with pandemic measures — a chicken and egg problem
As the perceived danger emanating from SARS-CoV-2 is decreasing, so is people’s willingness to adjust their lives to comply with pandemic measures. At the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, three quarters of the population were willing to do so; this rate has dropped to 42% in April 2021. Although we see that people’s willingness to accept restrictions seems to correlate with the actual change in pandemic policies, it is difficult to know to what extent the latter caused the former — if at all.
Trust in the (welfare) state
When it comes to crisis preparedness, the Austrian population places great trust in state institutions. After over a year of pandemic life, a solid majority of our respondents (over 60% for each item) trusts that in case of a catastrophe, the state would be able to secure sufficient supplies of food, water, energy, public security, healthcare, and other basic needs for everyone at least four weeks. Only one in three (33%) privately store several weeks’ worth of food and medication as a precautionary measure (13% “absolutely”, 20% “somewhat”).
Moving from trust in state institutions to trust in the welfare state, one of the analyses carried out last month by Corona Panel project members looked at how attitudes changed during the pandemic. In short, the pandemic has not greatly changed people’s attitudes towards the welfare state. Levels of trust were high to start with, and they have remained so. Specifically, prior to the pandemic, in the period of 2017–2019, the reduction of social inequality was a very important goal for three quarters of the population (76%). The reduction of unemployment, in contrast, was an important concern for just over one third (38%). Regarding the social effect of social welfare measures, the population was split; and it was split also regarding the reduction of state intervention into the economy. In the course of the pandemic, the fight against unemployment has gained significant popularity (60%). Support for combating social inequality more broadly initially fell slightly, but subsequently settled at pre-crisis levels (71%). The same applies to the views on whether social support measures make people sluggish (34%) and whether politics should intervene less in the economy (31%) — these rates are largely the same as before the crisis.
Still no appetite for consumption
We have previously reported that people in Austria seem to have lost their appetite for consumption; in August 2020, seven in ten said they wanted to consume less, and only a minority was willing to boost economic recovery via their own consumption. This trend was independent of people’s financial situation. Our most recent data — from April 2021 — shows that, when it comes to making larger investments, people remain reluctant. When asked whether they believe that now is “a good time to purchase larger household goods such as furniture, a refrigerator, an oven, a TV set, or similar items”, fewer agreed in April 2021 than a month earlier. Our findings also indicate that people’s interest in consumption is not immediately related to whether or not brick-and-mortar shops are open, or whether online shopping is the only option.
Stay tuned for our next update early July!