New insights into New Zealanders’ changing attitudes to public health measures

New research shows the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted New Zealanders’ attitudes to infectious diseases, with a greater willingness to protect themselves and an expectation that others will act to prevent the spread of disease.

The Ministry of Health has published a new report today examining public attitudes and behaviours to public health measures. The report is titled: Life since the pandemic: How the COVID-19 pandemic experience has shaped public attitudes and beliefs on public health, infectious disease and vaccination. It is the first in a series of four reports that will be published this year.

Public Health Agency Deputy Director-General Dr Andrew Old says the research was commissioned to support public health services and policymakers to better assess what public health measures could be effective and proportionate in protecting New Zealanders from harm during a future pandemic.

“This can help us ensure when we respond to new major public health risks, such as a new pandemic, our response will be supported and acted on by a broad range of New Zealanders,” Dr Old says.

Overall, the report found:

  • People now have a greater awareness of infectious diseases and ways they can spread such as coughing and high contact surfaces. This includes less tolerance for other people spreading disease and a greater sense of responsibility to avoid spreading disease themselves.
  • There is now a greater social expectation to stay home when unwell. However, people have many rationalisations over their own decision to go out while unwell.
  • People support sensible public health measures that are well-articulated, consistent, and obviously effective against a clear risk of infection. An example would be isolating when sick or hand washing.
  • People were less tolerant of public health measures they felt were inconsistent and did not have an immediately obvious mechanism for protecting them from illness.
  • During COVID-19 pandemic, people used official communication from the Ministry of Health and other government agencies as a “first port of call” to understand what was happening and community groups for local information.

Dr Old says the report also reflects the range of ways that people have responded to public health measures and the need to ensure we address a range of different concerns when outlining the need for them.

“This is not unexpected and represents the diversity of views among New Zealanders.

“We continue to learn from the experience during the COVID-19 pandemic to inform and improve our preparedness for new public health threats, including pandemics.”

Additional information

The report is one of four the Ministry of Health commissioned research and evaluation agency Verian to carry out. These include two reports examining the drivers behind people’s public health actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and two reports based on behavioural surveys. This report is the first of the four released. It focuses on drivers behind people’s public health actions and attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic and how they have changed over time. The other three reports are expected to be released later this year.

This report is informed by 30 in-depth interviews between September and December 2023. People interviewed include Māori, Pacific people, Asian, Pākehā, disabled people and older people. Interviewees came from different parts of New Zealand, urban and rural, and a range of occupations and living situations.

/Public Release. View in full here.