Between March and May 2021, as the UK began to relax lockdown restrictions from the previous winter, Ipsos conducted a set of public dialogues on behalf of the Academy of Medical Sciences exploring the challenges facing the country this coming winter.
The dialogues form part of a wider report from the Academy called ‘COVID-19: Preparing the future – Looking ahead to winter 2021/22 and beyond’, which is available to view here.
Key findings include:
- Compared with last year, participants experience of the pandemic have become increasingly fragmented, with a wide range of views on optimism and pessimism for the coming months. Some were fatigued by the volume of information available and were now only interested in news that was directly relevant to their lives.
- Participants acknowledged this fragmented reality, with many in the groups interested in understanding how pandemic policies would deal with the inequalities which have been exposed over the past year and a half. This included understanding how the most impacted parts of society and the economy would be supported, what support was available for those least able to afford to self-isolate and how the mental health of younger people and students in particular would be addressed.
- Views on vaccination differ between older and younger groups. While older groups were mostly vaccinated, among younger people there was a view that COVID-19 was not a serious illness for them personally. This meant that their risk/benefit calculation on vaccination was very different and only a small amount of negative information was required to make them more hesitant to get a vaccination. At the same time these views tended to be lightly held, so could change quite rapidly.
- The groups were broadly happy to maintain a cautious approach to reopening. As the groups were conducted before the planned lifting of restrictions on 21 June 2021 was postponed many expressed concern about this date – and were in favour of measures such as masks and other restrictions being retained to help avoid a spike in cases next winter.
- Despite this, participants were broadly optimistic about this winter, crediting the successful vaccination drive and expressing belief that the UK government and scientists now have greater knowledge about COVID-19, which would allow them to respond better to the virus compared with the winter of 2020/21.
- Participants remain in ‘crisis’ mode, tending to support whatever measures they think are required to control the pandemic. Despite many wanting to return to what they considered a ‘normal’ life, none were yet able to express when they thought this might happen, or which signs might tell them when the right time would be. In this context the public will likely look to the government and scientists for cues that suggest COVID-19 has moved from being the main health focus, to one of a number of endemic diseases.
Ipsos held five online workshop events between March – June 2021 with members of the public recruited from across Great Britain.
- A panel of 32 participants - comprising eight recontacted participants from the 2020 research and 24 new contributors - was recruited with quotas split between the general public, members of ethnic minority groups and those who were more vulnerable to COVID-19 and had received an order to 'shield' during lockdowns (or those who were caring for people like this
- Fourteen young people aged 16-24 were also recruited from the AMS "Planet DIVOC-91" project.
The first panel participated in three events: the eight 2020 recruits took part in a short workshop in March, and then the entire cohort participated in two three-hour workshops in May and June 2021. The young people panel took part in two three-hour workshops in June 2021.