Otago Daily Times

Virus vigilance slipping, ministry survey suggests


WELLINGTON: A government survey suggests people are becoming increasing­ly relaxed about protecting themselves from the risk of Covid19.

Use of the NZ Covid Tracer app, wearing masks, washing hands and taking precaution­s when coughing or sneezing are all being reviewed on a monthly basis by the Ministry of Health. Other survey questions focus on mental health and how worried people are about the virus.

The ministry’s latest Health Survey shows that last month, 27.5% of people recorded where they had been and who they were with. That marks a sharp fall from 45.6% of respondent­s questioned in September last year who said they were doing this.

The survey also shows 73% covered their mouths and noses with a tissue, their sleeve or elbow every time they had

coughed or sneezed.

Just over 40% (42.5%) said they still used hand sanitiser or washed their hands for at least 20 seconds after touching surfaces outside. More than half surveyed (53.1%) said they always washed their hands for at least 20 seconds before eating or handling food.

In Auckland, many people spoken to said they were still observing the 20second guidance.

‘‘Initially it would have been making a conscious effort to

count that time, but now it’s just habit,’’ one man said.

Others said they were now more relaxed than during last year’s outbreak, including Sue.

‘‘Probably not always 20 seconds, maybe 10 or 15. I guess it’s just what I’m used to doing and what I’ve done for years and years here,’’ she said.

Anna Bennington admitted she did not always follow the guidance.

‘‘I’m washing them for a decent

amount of time, but probably not usually 20 seconds. I know the happy birthday [song] rule, but I don’t always apply it,’’ she said.

University of Otago public health professor Michael Baker was sceptical about the figures. For example, people’s selfreport­ed app usage was higher than the actual app use, he said.

‘‘We obviously have to interpret it pretty cautiously because we do know that people are not good at accurately recording or reporting their behaviour.’’

Prof Baker said people had become too relaxed and the alert level system needed an upgrade.

He wanted more levels that provided more rules for masks and app use, and said scanning in highrisk areas such as bars and restaurant­s should be mandatory.

‘‘I think we need to have more levels in the system, [it] needs to be more nuanced and the other thing that it needs is to have very clear rules on the use of masks built into it, and so this is one way of dealing with the complacenc­y.’’

Royal New Zealand College of General Practition­ers medical director Bryan Betty said that during Covid19 lockdowns, there were very few flu or serious chest infections due to hand washing, physical distancing and borders being closed.

He wanted that to continue. ‘‘Those practices that we had last year in terms of scanning, washing hands and taking precaution­s and not going to work when we had any cold or flulike symptoms are very, very important this year,’’ he said.

Data for the survey is captured through facetoface interviews with more than 13,000 adults and the parents or primary caregivers of more than 4000 children. — RNZ

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