According to an EU-funded study conducted in 11 countries, public confidence in the government and healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the highest in Finland. The study also reveals that confidence is an important factor when it comes to compliance with restrictions.
During the pandemic, different restrictions have been introduced globally to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The measures and their restrictiveness have varied between countries.
An international survey of the measures was carried out in June–November 2020 with respondents from 11 countries: United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Czechia, India, Latvia, Poland, Rumania, Sweden, and Finland. There were 9,543 responses to the survey, of which 542 were from Finland.
In the online questionnaire, researchers asked citizens about 44 different restrictive public health measures aimed to limit the spread of the virus to see how efficient citizens found them. In addition, they were asked, for example, which restrictions are seen as infringements of individual liberties, which views and demographic factors impact compliance, and what is the best way for governments to improve citizens’ compliance.
Perceived Restrictiveness and Efficiency of Measures Affects Compliance
The new study provides researchers with unique responses concerning what measures citizens find to be the most effective, and which ones they see as undermining their human rights. Responses reveal that politicians should start with the least restrictive and most effective public health measures first in case of pandemic emergencies.
Many restrictions, such as the 1–2 metre safety distance and remote work recommendation or obligation, were seen as more effective and less restrictive in Finland than in the other countries. People in Finland were also the most committed to observing restrictions.
Tendency to comply with restrictions was associated with citizen’s fear of becoming infected and stress. Non-compliance, then again, was linked with the measures implemented by the government being perceived as too extreme. Confidence in government was highlighted in the responses: confidence increases the likelihood of complying with restrictions.
– Citizens are ready to comply with restrictions that interfere with their human rights if the restrictions are perceived as efficient. However, when it comes to using a face mask, more important than perceived efficiency is the citizen’s confidence in policymakers. Confidence of the Finnish people was clearly present in the survey. However, clear communication about the reasons behind the measures and their effectiveness is important and should be continued, summarises Postdoctoral Researcher Tella Lantta from the University of Turku who led the study in Finland.
The study also reveals that education, gender, and age affect compliance with restrictions. Higher education, female gender, and higher age increased the likelihood of complying with restrictions.
– We need targeted information that considers the background of citizens in order to increase compliance, notes Lantta.
The research group has recently published the first research article based on the survey. The next publication will focus on the respondents’ mental health and its association with restrictions. The study will be published later in the spring.