A NEW Conservative Woman/Savanta ComRes poll reveals a series of profound public misconceptions about the risk of dying from Covid-19, many encouraged by the Government, which may call into question the basis on which repeated opinion polls have registered high levels of support for the latest lockdown restrictions.
These misconceptions extend to exaggerated public fears about the age at which people have died with it, the mortality rates of Covid compared to other causes of death and the incidence of ‘long Covid’.
The polling also paints a bleak picture of the negative impact of Covid-19 on mental health and access to non-Covid NHS treatment, particularly among women, the disabled and young people.
Kathy Gyngell, editor of The Conservative Woman, said of the findings: ‘It is horrifying to think that the British public have been persuaded to support the Government’s extended and restrictive lockdown policy on the basis of such deep misconception of the risk, especially when it has come at such catastrophic cost to their own well-being and that of wider society.
‘The Government has vast PR resources at its fingertips, and numerous opportunities to set the record straight, but the public have instead been fed a diet of fear and gloomy statistics which has doubtless contributed directly to these misconceptions. It is little surprise therefore that people are generally resigned about the current severe lockdown restrictions, despite the carnage being wreaked on the health, welfare and lives of millions.’
The public are misinformed about Covid-19
· People remain very nervous/fearful about the threat of Covid but there is good evidence to show that public understanding of Covid’s mortality rate is overblown, in some instances very substantially.
· People think the median age at which Covid victims have died is just 65 when the average is 82.4 years (older than average life expectancy generally of 81.16 years).
· Generally speaking, the younger the person, the more inaccurate their estimate of the age of Covid’s victims.
· The publicity given to ‘long Covid’ has served to heighten fears about it, with a small majority (52 per cent) who believe that it affects around 1 patient in 3, when most estimates suggest it affects around 1 in 20.
· Staggeringly, some 41 per cent wrongly think Covid has been the single biggest cause of UK deaths in 2020.*
· There is however extensive awareness that there are four times as many cancer deaths per year (52 per cent) and that suicide takes more lives among under-50s in a typical year (51 per cent).**
A catastrophic impact on health and mental health
· Alarmingly, 42 per cent say that Covid pressures on the NHS have stopped them accessing non-Covid health care; this equates to 22million adults.
· Women have been particularly vulnerable to Covid pressure on the NHS (almost half of women, 46 per cent, say they’ve been unable to access non-Covid health care compared with 38 per cent of men), as have people with a disability (47 per cent compared with 39 per cent without disability).
· Another massive figure is that 40 per cent say that their mental health has suffered as a result of the Covid restrictions (equivalent to 21million adults); similarly 29 per cent say their physical health has suffered (15million adults).
· Again, women have been the major victims in terms of mental health (45 per cent compared with 34 per cent of men whose mental health has suffered), as well as younger people (52 per cent to 23 per cent), those with disabilities (47 per cent to 37 per cent) and parents (50 per cent to 35 per cent).
· Younger people are more likely to say their physical health has suffered (40 per cent of 18-34s compared with 16 per cent of 55+), as well as those with disabilities (39 per cent to 25 per cent) and parents (40 per cent to 24 per cent).
Lockdown support is equivocal when presented with other options
· By a ratio of around 2:1 (45 per cent to 22 per cent) the public agree the government should focus protection for key workers and vulnerable groups rather than nation-wide lockdowns; interestingly there is no significant variation among those with a disability (44 per cent compared with 46 per cent without).
· Six in ten (61 per cent) agree that the UK will need repeated lockdowns until a vaccine is widely available, although there is again a major age factor – just 44 per cent of 18-24s agree with this compared with 74 per cent of 65+.
· By 50 per cent to 15 per cent people agree they do not wish to see Lockdown 2 extend beyond December 2 but instead be replaced by a regional tier system. Surprisingly, older people are more likely to support this view.
Mistrust of government
· Four in ten (38 per cent) think the scientists have ‘significantly’ over-estimated Covid deaths in their modelling; it is indeed interesting to note that this includes 45 per cent of public sector workers but 38 per cent in the private sector. Leavers and Tory voters are also more critical of the modelling.
· By 49 per cent to 19 per cent people think encouragement to report neighbours for breaching Covid regulations does more overall harm than good.
· The most common reason for not using the NHS app is because people don’t want the government to have access to their data (29 per cent) and – incredibly – is higher among public sector than private sector workers (36 per cent to 33 per cent).
· The forced choice and targeted shielding questions produced confused and contradictory responses: focused protection gains more equivocal support while 55 per cent to 27 per cent think lockdown is the best way of preventing the NHS from being overloaded.
· While around six in ten (59 per cent) say they would accept vaccination, that leaves more than 21million Britons who either would not (17 per cent) or who are neutral/don’t know (24 per cent).
· Younger people are much less likely to accept vaccination: 42 per cent of 18-24s compared with 75 per cent of over-65s, which suggests confirmation of our hypothesis that attitudes towards containment measures is driven by perception of risk.
All the data points to some very clear conclusions:
· The public are at a desperately low ebb, but Covid has been particularly tough for women, the young and those with disabilities. The young have paid a high price for surrendering their rights to (nominally) protect the old.
· Public perceptions of Covid mortality rates, and the perceived fragility of the NHS, appear to be fuelling the willingness with which people accept the need for lockdown.
· There is a lingering and deep suspicion of the government in terms of NHS app data, vaccination and the modelling on which death statistics have been calculated.
· The Government’s ‘generate fear’ policy response to Covid has succeeded, but at the huge cost of the nation’s mental health and wellbeing.
(A Sage-produced document in March, ‘Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures’ concluded that we were not yet frightened enough. It said: ‘A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened.’ It recommended: ‘The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.’)
*Covid does not feature in the top causes of death. In September it was the 19th cause in England and 24th in Wales.
Covid-mentioned death certificates accounted for 7 per cent of the total between the first Covid mention (March 13) and end October.
Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,130 UK adults aged 18+ online between November 6 and 9, 2020.