‘We think others will not abide by the rule of four’

May 12th 2020

Big Corona study surveyed our attitude about relaxation of the measures 

We have little faith in others when it comes to respecting the ‘rule of four’. And it’ll be a while before we can go to shopping centres or shopping streets. These are findings from the ninth wave of the Big Corona Study. 

The Big Corona Study, an initiative of UAntwerp with the support of UHasselt, KU Leuven and ULB, has been running for nine weeks. On Tuesday, another 83,000 Belgians took the time to complete the questionnaire. Around 6,000 people did so in partially. 

‘We see an increase of 3,000 people compared to last week’, Prof. Philippe Beutels (UAntwerp) says. ‘We are very grateful for that. For scientists like us the collected data sets are extremely relevant, but we realise that for loyal respondents, participating is partly a déjà vu experience. That is why we always keep the questionnaire as concise as possible and let it respond to current events. Among other things, this data helps us to make better predictions based on simulation models and to monitor the well-being of young and old. The large number of participants indicates that many still find the study relevant.’ 

From the large pool of answers, the researchers filtered out some interesting findings this week: 

The rule of four 

Starting on Sunday 10 May, a little more social contact has been allowed: the ‘rule of four’ allows a household to meet up to four other people (always the same ones). ‘Of the respondents, 43% say they will not change anything in terms of social contact’, Prof. Thomas Neyens (UHasselt/KU Leuven) says. ‘They are not planning to meet up with anyone else. Most people who say they will have a bit more contact say that their household will probably be able to stick to the rule of not seeing more than four people and always the same people.’ 

But there are clear differences between generations and between the sexes: for example, only half of 18 to 35-year-old men say they will abide by the rule. For women over 65 years of age, the figure is as high as 80%. For each generation, women say they will respect it more. Remarkably, men with COVID-19 symptoms say they will have a harder time. This requires further research, but one possible explanation is that these people have also been less compliant over the past few days and are therefore showing symptoms. 

It is also striking that we do not trust our fellow citizens much in this respect. Neyens: ‘Only 10 to 15% of people – in all age groups – think that other people will comply well or very well. The older generations predominantly think that their fellow citizens will sometimes succeed, sometimes not. We see less trust in other households especially among the adult group, e.g. the 18–35 year olds.’  

Shopping and consumer confidence 

The shops reopened on Monday 11 May. The ninth wave of the Big Corona Study enquired about the purchasing behaviour and consumer confidence of Belgians. 

‘Online shopping has increased recently’, Koen Pepermans (UAntwerp) says. ‘Local food retailers in particular are seeing a rise in their online sales. An increase is mainly seen in people who already shopped online, but do so more often now. Previously, men shopped online more than women. For online purchases at local shops, women have now caught up with them; they now do it as much or more often than men. Men continue to lead when it comes to online shopping at chains. An interesting finding, but that shift remains subtle for now and requires more research.’ 

If it were up to the respondents, the shopping centres and streets will not be flooded in the coming weeks. There is not a lot of enthusiasm to go shopping in May. More people indicate that they would like to go shopping in the coming months, but it remains fairly limited. One in three Belgians indicates that they will spend a little less or a lot less money on larger purchases. 

Currently, there is also a discussion about whether or not masks should be worn in shops. The study sought to find out what the Belgian stance is on the mandatory use of masks in various places. Men and women clearly think differently: more than six in ten women would make wearing a mask mandatory for shop staff. In comparison, this is only true for four in ten men. According to just over half of the women, customers should wear protection, and just over 40% of the men believe this.  

Trust in the Security Council 

On Wednesday, the National Security Council met again to decide which measures can be relaxed in the coming period. The Big Corona Study also questions Belgians about their attitude towards the Security Council. Based on wave 8 on 5 May, about 20% of respondents think that the Security Council pays too much attention to economics. The participants also feel that far too little attention is paid to the welfare of the children (46%). People also want perspectives for the cultural sector: 59% think that the Security Council pays far too little attention to this issue. 

If you are looking for an overview of the Big Corona Study so far to study evolutions, please visit https://corona-studie.shinyapps.io/corona-studie/, a project by Jonas Crèvecoeur (KU Leuven). On the homepage you can find some highlights. If you click on the plus sign at the top right, you will get access to the detailed graphs. 

On Tuesday 19 May between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., the tenth wave of the Big Corona Study is scheduled to take place (available in four languages).