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]
Just when the Delta-variant was making inroads into Austria (on 1 July, the Delta variant was the most frequent variant found in PCR tests in the country, albeit with a low number of new infections in absolute terms), the Austrian government decided to lift most of the remaining anti-Covid-19 measures, including requirements to wear face masks in hotels and restaurants, and maximum numbers of people allowed to gather at events. Taken together with the beginning of the holiday season, with many Austrians travelling abroad, this fuels concerns about another wave of infections in the Autumn.
Green passports had been hailed as an important instrument on the way to normalcy. A few weeks later than predicted by the Austrian government, Green Passports were rolled out in June 2021. People in Austria who hold a valid test, have been vaccinated, or have recovered from Covid-19 can now get a digital certificate that will help them prove their status when crossing borders, when entering cafes, restaurants, hotels, or events in Austria (where such proof is still required for each individual visit). When we asked respondents in our Austrian Corona Panel Project what they thought about Green Passports in May 2021, a majority (56%) said they would like to get one as soon as possible. At the same time, there seems to be considerable doubt about the effectiveness of this tool, and also about adequate data protection: Back in May, only 42% believed that Green Passports will allow society to return to normalcy. About the same number (43%) were afraid of Green Passports giving rise to a two-class society, and 34% believed their data used for this purpose to be unsafe.
What else have we found since our previous update in early June 2021?
In the spring of 2020, we had already asked our respondents to assess the accuracy of a number of false statements related to Covid-19. This spring we asked respondents to assess these statements again, ranging from claims that 5G transmission masts are responsible for the spread of the novel Coronavirus, to the virus having been accidentally released during a secret military operation in the U.S., to Bill Gates wanting to coerce the world’s population into getting vaccinated for his own financial benefit. This spring, less than half of our respondents correctly identified all statements as false. This is about the same number as in our survey last year.
In addition to the items that we tested a year ago, in March 2021 we added three additional statements that were not specifically related to Covid-19: that climate change is not caused by humans, that George Soros is secretly funding immigration into the European Union, and that secret societies are preparing a new authoritarian world order. These statements were correctly identified as inaccurate by more than half of our respondents (by 70%, 54%, and 57% respectively). However, a full 16% did believe that secret societies are plotting for a new world order, and 11% considered climate change as unrelated to human action; 10% agreed that George Soros is paying people to come to the EU. Although many seem to be unsure whether these statements are true or not, rather than firmly convinced of their accuracy, these numbers paint a rather worrying picture.
We also found that people who are more involved with social media on Covid-19-related matters, as well as those who believe that the government is exaggerating the health-related dangers of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, are more likely to believe conspiracy theories. In terms of party preferences, people who are more likely to vote for the right-wing Freedom Party, FPÖ, are more susceptible to conspiracy myths, while voters for the Green party are least susceptible. People with histories of migration are also more prone to conspiracy myths, while overall, people’s receptiveness to these myths decreases with higher age, higher levels of formal education, and higher household income.
Working from home remains a perk for the privileged
When the pandemic started early spring 2020, many people whose work could be done from home were asked, or even required to, do so. As the pandemic progressed, an increasing gap emerged between organisations and enterprises that supported home office arrangements, and those that required workers to return to the office as they worried that employees working from home would slack off. At the same time, for a significant part of the population, working from home has never been an option. In Austria, as our data shows, specifically in hospitality and catering, health and social work, trade, and in the manufacturing industry, working from home was a very rare occurrence also during the peak of the pandemic. As a result, home office arrangements benefited mostly people with higher levels of formal education, and higher than average income. We did not find a difference between women and men in this respect.
Shopping for household goods
While we previously reported that many Austrians had lost their appetite for consumption, the acquisition of household goods is becoming increasingly popular. The proportion of those who considered it a good time to invest in larger household items has increased from 8% in March 2020 to 30% in May 2021. Although this increase has fluctuated, the decrease of those who believed it is a bad time to make such purchases has been more consistent (from 86% in March 2020 to 18% this May).
Healthcare: Who should be treated better?
Last but not least, we also asked our respondents about their preferences regarding who should be prioritised within the healthcare system. Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of how strongly the Austrian healthcare is anchored in the principle of solidarity, a strong majority favoured equal opportunities for all people who need treatment. Close to half (49%) would like to see more money to be spent on healthcare, and 44% supported the elimination of any co-payments — but only few (14%) were prepared to contribute more personally. While less than a third (29%) would like to see all private medicine abolished and only public healthcare to remain, only one in ten supported the expansion of private medicine. In the group that favoured the latter, those holding private insurance and those with higher incomes were overrepresented.
The Austrian Corona Panel Project will take a much needed break over the summer — we will be back with new data and new analyses in the Autumn 2021!