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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Corona fear in India higher than in West, lower than in other parts of Asia

Although approving of the government’s lockdown strategy, Indians are fearful of lockdown impact on essential services and jobs, shows a new survey

The fear around coronavirus is higher in India than most Western countries, but less so compared to other Asian countries. And within India, it is millennials who appear more fearful compared to other age-groups, shows a Mint analysis of a large-scale global survey conducted by market research firm YouGov.

Among the millennials in India, women said they were more scared of the virus than men. Across genders, those belonging to the GenZ generation (post-millennial adults) were less scared than millennials. Even older generations (Gen X and older), who are more vulnerable to covid-19 than millennials, were less afraid of the virus and the disease it causes than millennials.

In India, 62 percent of respondents on an average said they were scared of contracting the virus. This is lower than figures elsewhere in the continent, barring Singapore, which reported slightly lower numbers. However, this figure is higher than that in most Western countries. Even though case counts and fatalities have been relatively higher in Europe and the US compared to most Asian peers, the fear of the virus appears to be lower there than in most Asian countries.

The analysis is based on a global YouGov survey that started with eight Asia-Pacific countries in early February, and was scaled up to cover 26 countries by mid-March. Over the past few weeks, at least a thousand respondents were interviewed each week in each of the 26 countries. In all these countries, the survey has run for at least five weeks, and offers a window into people’s reactions to the spread of the virus and the measures taken to contain it.

In India, the survey has run for seven weeks and solicited the views of 7,383 respondents. Given that the survey was conducted online in a country with low rural internet penetration, it only attempted to cover urban Indians.

In most countries, fear levels rose in response to the mounting case count and government efforts to contain the pandemic over the past few weeks. As schools and offices shut down, government responses ranging from mobility restrictions to complete lockdown may have accentuated fears, suggests the data. A higher proportion of respondents reported moderate to high degree of fear of contracting the virus in the week after their respective countries announced such restrictions.

The jump in fear levels is particularly stark for countries such as France, Australia and the UK, where the proportion reporting high levels of fear nearly doubled after lockdown measures were introduced.

The lockdown measures also bred fears about access to different amenities. In India, more people were worried about the availability of essentials (food items, medicines, etc.) than they have been about falling sick. 37 percent of respondents expressed such fears, 25 percent were worried about access to health services, 22 percent about their mental health, 20 percent about losing jobs, and an additional 16 percent were worried about pay cuts.

As in the case of fearfulness regarding the virus, respondents in Asian countries reported taking more precautions (such as avoiding public places and wearing face masks) compared to Western peers. On most parameters, Indians ranked close to the median. But in case of personal hygiene (washing hands, using sanitizers), Indians were relatively less cautious. Other than the Chinese and the Thai, Indians were most cautious about the consumption of raw meat.

Indians less cautious about hygiene than most other countries
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Indians less cautious about hygiene than most other countries

Indian respondents also rated government actions to contain the pandemic more favourably compared to their peers elsewhere. A cross-country comparison of government approval ratings from the YouGov poll with the lockdown stringency index developed by the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University suggests that approval ratings are higher in countries with more stringent restrictions.

More than 80 percent respondents in Vietnam, India, and Denmark approved their government’s response to handling covid-19. They also had very high scores on the stringency index (94 and above, on a scale of 0-100) developed by the Oxford team.

Even though lockdown measures may have been described as authoritarian in many countries, leaders across countries may simply be reacting to public opinion on covid-19, or at least to the opinions of those among the public who are connected to the web, and can make their views known to the wider world.

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