While the UK’s vaccination program has been celebrated as the Government’s greatest success during the pandemic, scientists have warned that we will need to continue exercising caution in future. Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific officer, has warned that masks may need to be worn for another year, despite the rapid vaccine rollout and recent decline in cases.
The British public are by and large under no illusion that the vaccination program will eradicate all risks associated with the coronavirus. 78% think the coronavirus will be a recurring virus but will be managed by vaccinations, as has occurred with influenza. Only a tenth (10%) of the public think that coronavirus will be eradicated by vaccinations, like polio, and a further 12% don’t know.
Indeed, the majority of the public think it is likely some of the practices that have been adopted during the crisis will continue to a significant extent even after the pandemic is behind us, including mask wearing (51%), frequent use of hand-sanitiser (64%), frequent hand washing (64%), and working from home (53%). Even changes in social activities are set to stay, with 31% saying socially distanced hangouts will likely continue and a quarter (23%) saying they will continue video calling friends or family instead of visiting them. The pandemic has allowed for the normalization of other forms of social interaction that many may have actually enjoyed or, at least, found more convenient.
A significant quarter (25%) think it is likely people will avoid public spaces to avoid getting sick, a result that may bring questions for the hospitality sector and those predicting a ‘roaring 20s’ social rebound.
A quarter (26%) of the public think contact tracing is likely to continue to a significant extent post-pandemic and 29% think quarantines after travelling will continue. Countries affected by the SARS epidemic of 2003, such as Taiwan, already had contact tracing systems that were used once again during the coronavirus to great success. The relatively low numbers of cases and deaths in countries that already had contract tracing systems and were quick to impose quarantines may appeal to a significant portion of the British public who hope to prepare for future pandemics.
Furthermore, mask wearing has been normalized in many Asian countries previously affected by the 2003 SARS epidemic. By April, South Korea, Singapore, and Japan were distributing face masks to residents and Taiwan had banned the export of masks due to soaring demands locally. By contrast, few European countries had even encouraged mask wearing.
The majority of the British public think it is likely they will continue to wear a mask when shopping in the supermarket (60%), taking public transport (61%), visiting the hospital (69%), flying in an airplane (61%), and leaving their home while ill (62%) after the pandemic is behind us. We could see a normalization of mask wearing in Britain similar to that seen in many Asian countries following the SARS epidemic.
The majority (59%) of the public say they will continue to generally greet others without shaking hands, hugging, or kissing in the future, when the pandemic is behind us.
Meanwhile, only 7% think it is unlikely that remote working will be an option to office workers when the pandemic is behind us and it is safe to return to the office, with the majority (61%) thinking it is likely. While appetite to see remote working continue may demonstrate wariness about safety in a workplace, it may be because both workers and business owners have generally found remote work to be more or equally as productive as their regular non-remote operations. For many, practices adopted during the pandemic have benefits beyond reducing the risk from the virus.
Ultimately, while scientists have warned that restrictions may need to be in place for another year, the British public appears readily willing to adopt many practices into their normal lives post-pandemic anyway. In particular, the majority of the public think it is likely they will wear masks in a variety of scenarios post-pandemic, suggesting that we could see a normalization of mask wearing similar to that in Asia following the 2003 SARS epidemic. A significant minority wish to see contact tracing continue, which may highlight a desire to better prepare for future pandemics. Many other measures such as working from home and virtual social interactions that have benefits beyond protection against the coronavirus also look set to stay.
Many of our questions discussed here presumed a ‘post-pandemic’ future. However, it is worth noting again that the public overwhelmingly think it is more likely that the coronavirus will not be eradicated by the current vaccination program, further suggesting that many of these new practices will likely be here to stay.