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Survey reveals lack of public interest in official Covid guidance

Sense About Science launches study into public perception of government information during Covid-19

Public interest in government information and guidance on coronavirus has fallen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a study by the charity Sense About Science.

The initial findings of its survey are part of a bigger What Counts? study, which is exploring how the public perceived government information and evidence during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Early results suggest that only 29 per cent of people were “very aware” of Covid-19 information, guidelines and rules since March 2021—down from 50 per cent in the first six months of the pandemic.

The largest decrease in awareness was among 18 to 29-year-olds, where the proportion reporting being “very aware” declined by 30 percentage points.

“As the pandemic continues, it’s vitally important we understand people’s experiences of, and interactions with, government information on Covid-19,” said Guy Goodwin, chief executive of the National Centre for Social Research, which carried out the survey.

“This research and the What Counts? inquiry provide evidence that can help shape effective government communications during the pandemic. Crucially, this can support people across society to make sound decisions during these changing times.”

Initial analysis of the survey also suggests that 80 per cent of respondents accessed Covid-19 information from mainstream news coverage since March 2020, with 69 per cent accessing it through government briefings.

Only 41 per cent reported accessing websites of government bodies or departments, with 36 per cent looking at reports of government statistics.

Government inquiry

The launch of the study coincides with the appointment of Heather Hallett as chair of the government-commissioned public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic.

The official Covid inquiry, which is set to begin its work in spring 2022, will examine the UK’s pandemic response to ensure lessons have been learned.

The chairs of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee, Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, issued a joint statement welcoming Hallett’s appointment.

“The joint inquiry by our committees took detailed evidence over many months from key sources to identify lessons that could be learnt for future handling of the pandemic,” they said. “In order for those lessons to have impact, we called for the public inquiry to be launched as soon as possible.

“Our findings gave an initial assessment of how the Covid-19 pandemic was handled. We hope that our recommendations together with the evidence we have collected will be of use to the public inquiry.”