India's perception of coronavirus response: Nearly 50% respondents find govt action adequate but trust is dwindling, says survey
At the start of the lockdown in India, a team of researchers put together a worldwide survey on perceptions related to the coronavirus, and associated behaviours and outcomes
At the start of the lockdown in India, a team of researchers put together a worldwide survey on perceptions related to COVID-19, and associated behaviours and outcomes. The project sought to examine how individuals perceive the pandemic and behave in response to it, and features researchers from Harvard Business School, Warwick University, Cambridge University, among many others.
Since 21 March, COVID-19 has ravaged the world unabated and many governments continue to face mounting challenges to their healthcare systems. Nearly all of them rely immensely on the behavioural response to the outbreak, while having to enforce social distancing measures, and keep citizens informed about what steps to take in case of a possible infection.
In recently-released data, perceptions and behaviours of the nearly 1,000-odd respondents from India who participated in the survey between 21 March and 3 April have been documented. This is the period for which consistent data (ie at least 10 respondents per day) is available. However, before identifying specific patterns within India, it is worth comparing the overall pattern of responses with other countries, where the COVID-19 outbreak has varied in intensity as well as the government's response.
First, Indian respondents were far less likely than counterparts in other countries such as Argentina, Malaysia, China, or Australia to report that they stayed at home or maintained a two-metre physical distance from others in the past week when taking the survey — given that the nationwide lockdown was first imposed on 24 March, this behaviour seems at odds with policy. This surprisingly does not correspond with the fact that less than five percent of all Indian respondents felt that social distancing would be ineffective in fighting the coronavirus. However, Indian respondents, on average, reported a higher likelihood of sanitary behaviours such as hand-washing and reporting symptoms to others.
Next, government responses to the crisis (such as lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, or fiscal stimuli) has been under public scrutiny, particularly in more affected countries such as the United States. Compared to nearly 85.1 percnet of Americans who perceived the government reaction as insufficient, only 52.4 percent of Indian respondents felt that the Indian government's response was inadequate. Turkey had the highest share of respondents who felt that more needed to be done; nearly 91.6 percent felt the government was not doing enough. Finally, a little more than half of all Indian respondents felt that their government was untruthful or factually inaccurate about the coronavirus. The corresponding average around the world is at around 37 percent.
We now turn to analysing responses of Indians to the survey, focusing on their behaviours as well as perceptions of government efficacy in handling the outbreak. We note the trends in responses over time, highlighting any changes around 24 March, when the nationwide lockdown was announced.
Survey question: To what extent do the following statements describe your behaviour for the past week? [0 = Does not apply at all; 100 = Applies very much]
In terms of behavioural responses to COVID-19, we observe that there is far more acceptance of staying at home, avoiding social gatherings, and informing others in case of symptoms. The last of these spiked after 2 April, around the time at which India started to ramp up testing. There appears to be no clear trend in terms of physical distancing, but in general it would appear this is the behaviour that is least followed in India.
Interestingly, more than 78 percent of all respondents believed that financial punishment for violation of lockdown rules or other risky behaviours should be imposed. The survey also asked individuals for a suggested fine amount for two actions: (a) Attending or organising social gatherings; and (b) going out despite exhibiting symptoms. The range for the former was between Rs 15,000 to over Rs one lakh, reporting an average fine of Rs 43,084 for attending social gatherings (note that specific location or city data for respondents is unavailable).
For going out despite exhibiting symptoms, the suggested financial punishment averaged nearly Rs two lakh. This clearly suggests that Indian respondents felt that venturing out despite exhibiting symptoms puts others at a greater risk and therefore should be more severely sanctioned. This is in line with earlier data on economic preferences in India, where sanctions/punishments to deal with antisocial behaviour are favoured.
Finally, nearly 47 percent of all respondents (over the entire survey period) felt that the government response to the outbreak was appropriate. However, 44 percent also said that it was either insufficient or not at all sufficient. This shows a nearly even split between those who agreed with the government's intervention strategy and those that felt more needed to be done (as evident from the global comparisons earlier).
Survey question: Opinion on government's response to outbreak
With that said, trust in the government response appears to be dwindling, as growing numbers of respondents from India seem to say that they strongly distrust the government when it comes to taking care of its citizens, and question whether factually accurate information has been shared with the public. These are worrying trends, given that communication about the COVID-19 outbreak is vital to people's understanding of the disease threat as well as making informed decisions about their own behaviours.
Survey question on trust: How much do you trust your country's government to take care of its citizens? [1 = Strongly distrust; 2 = Somewhat distrust; 3 = Neither trust nor distrust; 4 = Somewhat trust; 5 = Strongly trust]
Survey question on factual information: How factually truthful do you think your country’s government has been about the coronavirus outbreak? [1 = Very untruthful; 2 = Somewhat untruthful;3 = Neither truthful nor untruthful; 4 = Somewhat truthful; 5 = Very truthful]
Understanding behavioural responses to sudden virulent outbreaks as we have seen with COVID-19 is critical for government when formulating their public health strategies. In taking into account such behaviour and perceptions, governments at the state and Union can tweak their dissemination. The major shortcoming of this dataset is that although it was translated into various regional languages, we have no sense of the location of respondents (especially as there are vast differences between states). Furthermore, when responding to questions related to the government response, it remains unclear whether the respondents evaluate only the Union government’s policies or their respective state government’s strategies as well. Despite this, the survey offers a closer look at how India behaves in light of a pandemic.
The author works with the Department of Economics, Monk Prayogshala, a not-for-profit academic research organisation based in Mumbai
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