Coronavirus: Survey reveals why Kiwis aren't getting sick of following COVID-19 orders

The Government's "simple, clear, empathetic, kind and trustworthy" messaging on COVID-19 is behind Kiwis' willingness to go along with measures to fight the virus, including lockdowns, new research has found.

A new survey by Massey University has found a year on from the first - and to date, only - nationwide lockdown, 81 percent would be happy to do it all over again if it was necessary to stop another outbreak. Even more - 94 percent - would back another regional lockdown, like those imposed on Auckland in August in February. 

Most Kiwis are also doing their bit to stop another lockdown, the survey found. More than three-in-four - 77 percent - said they use a contact tracing app and 71 percent have urged friends and family to do so as well. 

Seven in 10 self-isolate when feeling unwell, up from six in a prior Massey survey, conducted mid-last year. Nearly the same number wear a mask in public, up from just half in June/July, before the August outbreak.

"This is a very good result even after a year on from emerging from the lockdown," Jagadish Thaker, a senior lecturer at Massey's School of Communication, told Newshub.

"We haven't seen protective behaviour fatigue - people are not getting tired of getting back into lockdown sometimes, and following the behaviour the experts are asking us to do."

Dr Thaker said it shows the value of effective communication. 

"We found a high degree of support and trust in Government communications on COVID-19. We found a majority of Kiwis rating the Government's communications as simple, clear, empathetic, kind and trustworthy - which are all key principles of effective public health communication. We also haven't seen trust fatigue - people are not getting tired of listening to the key messages coming from public health experts and the Government."

While seeing overseas what carnage the virus can wreak when it's uncontrolled would have hardened Kiwis' attitudes, he said the evidence showed "most of it is coming from our own trust in the Government and public health experts".

The survey was carried out at the end of February and in March, during which time there were outbreaks in Auckland. Since then, data from the Ministry of Health shows there's been more than a 50 percent drop in the number of scans being done each day, and a similar fall in the number of active devices.

Vaccine hesitancy proving hard to cure

But there is one area that trust doesn't appear to be making much of an impact - vaccine hesitancy. In June/July last year, 26 percent of Kiwis were either opposed to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, or unsure but leaning towards no.

At the time, no vaccines had been developed. Since then, a number have been approved and rolled out in various countries. New Zealand's chosen vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, has had enormous success in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in Israel, which acted as something of a test case for how it would work in the real world after successful trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers. 

Jagadish Thaker.
Jagadish Thaker. Photo credit: Massey University

Despite this, 10 percent still remain adamant they won't get a jab, and another 12 percent say they're unlikely to. Dr Thanker's research has found a strong link between education and willingness to get vaccinated, with sceptics more likely to be poorly educated, while those deemed 'enthusiasts' tending to be highly educated. 

"Even after a year of testing vaccine efficacy and Government approval, we're still finding a quarter of Kiwis a bit hesitant or sceptical about the vaccine," said Dr Thaker. "I think there's still some work that needs to be done in order to reach these [people]." 

Groups opposed to the vaccine rollout have ramped up efforts in recent months, distributing flyers of misinformation and even challenging it in court

Vaccines are key to getting herd immunity, which will allow the borders to reopen. 

New Zealand's response to the pandemic was until recently rated best in the world of any major economy, according to Bloomberg's COVID Resilience Ranking. It was recently overtaken by Singapore, but looks set to regain the top spot with the latter starting to shut down in response to an outbreak of the highly infectious Indian variant

"Looking internationally, if you let down your guard the virus strikes back with a vengeance," said Dr Thaker.