The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Yet people are reacting to it in ways we’ve seen in earlier crises. As those patterns play out, there are lessons for policymakers, company leaders and brands.
Including COVID-19 threat people waver on vaccines
Given that the virus is escalating, it’s surprising that in a Feb. 14 Ipsos poll with eight countries, fewer than half of people surveyed would take a vaccine if one were available. Forty-six percent in the U.S. and 45% in Canada said they would get such a vaccine. Just 23% in Japan would do so.
This has been a pattern in other pandemics. When the H1N1 swine flu was spreading the globe in 2009, nearly half of Americans said they were not likely to get a vaccine, if available. This despite concern among Americans jumping from half to 63% over five months.
Blame starts at the top…
Americans see the U.S. government and national health organizations as equally responsible for protecting the U.S. from COVID-19, according to a recent Ipsos global advisor survey. But they have different levels of faith in how they will carry out that responsibility.
Mistrust in government leaders to handle crises like this is a long-standing theme. A majority of Americans (54%), disapprove of the President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus response, while 43% approve, per a March 13 ABC News/Ipsos poll taken before the president fully acknowledged the scope of the challenge in a recent press conference.
By comparison, a third of people surveyed at the time of the swine flu by Ipsos (32%) reported that they were not confident in the Obama administration’s handling of this issue.
In April 2006, as the H5N1 bird flu spread, 53% of people said they were not confident in the government’s ability to handle the outbreak in the U.S. But by July 2007, concerns about the avian flu were ebbing and six in 10 Americans felt government leaders were giving adequate attention to it.
… but they still want government institutions to lead
Despite many holding little confidence in government officials to handle challenging situations, people trust governmental institutions. So far in the coronavirus outbreak, people most rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with 84% saying they trust it for information, in the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index. That compares to 70% for state government, 67% local governments and 53% for the federal government as a whole.
Much like people’s reaction today to COVID-19, eight in 10 people said they favored government actions in response to the avian flu. They wanted people to work from home (82%), close the borders to visitors from affected countries (74%) and close schools (69%). At that time, less than one in 10 people said they had taken steps to prepare for a possible outbreak.
The public doesn’t hold businesses accountable to resolve the crisis from a public health perspective, per a new Ipsos report on corporate reputation. But the public does expect brands and corporations to take all available measures to prevent the further spread of the virus, even if it impacts profits. Airlines, pharmaceutical companies and restaurants lead nine industries that Americans say have a “great deal” of responsibility to combating the spread of coronavirus.
People don’t like to change plans unless forced
In the early days of a pandemic, people have been reluctant to give up on their travel and daily routines. Not until the World Health Organization (WHO) called COVID-19 a pandemic did it disrupt many travelers’ plans. In a USA Today/Ipsos poll conducted during the second week of March, less than one in five planned to cancel a personal trip (17%). At the same time, while 42% of respondents supported temporary financial help for airlines and other affected industries, just 22% wanted all domestic flights grounded. More (39%) were in favor of grounding all international flights.
Similarly, during the swine flu outbreak in October 2009: Nine in 10 Americans said they would not change their holiday travel plans due to H1N1 flu in a national Ipsos survey for Mondial Assistance.
Everyone for themselves
As people hunker down for a crisis, they tend to shop in similar ways. Whether a pandemic or powerful storm, people turn to mission-shopping to stock up and even hoard items. Already, one in four Americans report changing their shopping habits as they cut down store trips and buy in bulk or online, per a new Ipsos qualitative analysis of online community feedback among 726 U.S. consumers. They are defaulting to trusted brands for their “preparedness kit” while local sourcing is important to some.
“I grabbed some extra Lysol wipes and toilet paper, because of the crazy people who are buying crates, said one person in the study. “Who knows when these things will become restocked permanently.”
Another thing to watch for is during the financial crisis of 2008, value became the keyword for shoppers. More than half of global shoppers said they would shun new grocery, personal and household products while some would switch to generic to save money.