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The epic opens: a look back at our first week in lockdown

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Julian Dailly EVP 26 March 2020

Coronavirus weekly tracker: 26th March 2020

As a movie, Covid-19 would have been hardly worth pitching.

22% of people know of someone with Covid-19, up from 17% last week. That 5% rise represents over 2m more people

Too unrealistic. Too many countries. Too many people. Too many complicated, interwoven narratives. Too big a budget. Too epic. Yet Covid-19 is real and begins, like all epics, with crisis.

And this is what it looks like: each week we ask 2,000 UK adults, representing around 45m people, about their experiences during the Coronavirus outbreak. Additionally, we’ve begun a daily read (most recent here) to gain a finer grained view of unfolding events.

Here’s the key points from this week’s update:

  • More lives upended: 1 in 3 (15m people) have had their lives “dramatically affected”, up from 1 in 5 (9m) only a week ago
  • More in self-isolation: Around 1 in 3 are now self-isolating, up from 1 in 6 last week
  • Rising infections: 22% of people know of someone with Covid-19, up from 17% last week. That 5% rise represents over 2m more people
  • Heightened anxiety: 45% of adults have become anxious about the situation, up from 33% just 10 days ago

What are people most anxious about?

We worry about our own health

In recent days, coverage from the government and senior officials has focused on reiterating the seriousness of Covid-19; to the extent that large numbers of people now believe they are bound to catch it.

  • Most have no symptoms: Our daily data has shown all week that 85%-87% of the adult population believe they have no Covid-19 symptoms
  • 1 in 3 think they’re likely to become infected: When asked on a 10pt scale, How at risk are you of contracting Covid-19? 33% place themselves between 8 – 10, where 10 is “Extremely likely”. Again, that’s 15m people
  • Young adults feel most invincible: Nevertheless, the youngest (18 – 24) feel safest, with only 1 in 5 showing this level of concern
  • Families are most concerned: Clearly the compromise schooling arrangements for children of key workers creates exposure for many members of this group, some of whom are the heroic teachers themselves

We worry about the behaviour of others

  • Most of us aren’t strictly following government advice: Perhaps it is a sense of inevitability that drives only 36% of people to “Entirely” follow the government’s advice. Worrying.
  • Particularly younger audiences: Not to be down on the kids, but the largest group here are the young (31% falling into those riskiest 3 brackets)

We worry about our families

  • Losing loved ones is our biggest fear: It tops a list of things when asked “What do you fear most about life after Covid-19?”

We worry about our livelihoods

  • Even more of us face financial challenges: 55% of people expect reduced disposable income due to Covid-19, up from 47% last week and 38% the week before

Plans to alleviate lost wages and unpayable housing costs have gone some way, for sure, but in reality, in a crisis cash is king and waiting for solutions only goes so far, especially for the self-employed who make up, according to the ONS, 15% of the UK workforce.

  • 73% of self-employed people expect reduced incomes

We worry about how long this will go on for

  • We are starting to think this epic could go on for much longer than we originally thought: Last week, across all groups, 2,000 predicted the impact of Covid-19 to be 8 months, now it’s 10 months
  • This means people are beginning not only to write off the spring and the summer, but autumn and winter too

I imagine Richard Curtis is already penning the opening lines of Four Face Masks and a Funeral or My Funny Quarantine. Hopefully not. Although an early release on Netflix isn’t unthinkable now.

We worry about our businesses

  • We’re reducing our spending: You can almost hear the sombre chorus of leather on brass as 55% of downbeat adults tighten their belts. That’s 25m consumers less willing to buy things.
  • What we’re buying more of: Categories being bought more are healthcare, alcohol for home consumption, in home TV / movies, home security and home improvement
  • What we’re buying less of: Categories being bought less are pubs and bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, days out and holidays, and out of home entertainment

Our data offers some clues to how brands can best act now and also get ready for a time when consumer demand is finally unleashed

If crisis is the start point, the long journey follows.

We’re sort of getting used to this. Yes, we’re frightened, but just as much as yesterday, not more. Plans are taking shape. We saw last week how confidence in our institutions, after a major rethink of the plan, began to return. That trend continues this week.

  • We trust our government more: Over the last week we have recorded increased trust in the government and its medical advisers, both as a source of information and an effective task force
  • Even if anxiety is rising, peak worry levels (“I am the most worried I’ve ever been”) are stabilising as we come to live with ongoing heightened worry

  • Boris Johnson’s net approval ratings (in our data) have steadily risen this week to +45%, up from just +16% this time last week
  • Stockpiling, though still an issue affecting many, is slowly weakening, even if through the same behaviour moving online.
  • Last week 1 in 3 adults “bought more than usual to stock up” this week it’s down to 1 in 4

We can see the end from the start

We are cheered to a degree by the partial re-opening of Wuhan, offering a glimpse of not only the humped mathematics of Covid-19 but, more powerfully, what it will feel like when our lives return to normal.

What will we do when the epic ends?

Popular myth has it that Homer’s Iliad ends with the fall of Troy, but in fact it ends with a truce and period of calm.

We asked people how they plan to celebrate when we get the all clear. In a great piece this week by Martin Dinkele, our food and drinks leader UK consumers were revealed not to be looking forward to champagne and a major celebratory blow out, but to a quiet pint with loved ones.

Caveat: Homer didn’t have nightclubs and it doesn’t take a savvy researcher to know even if that’s how things start, it might not be how they end.

This and next week

Covid-19 would have been too big for the big screen. Ironically, it is through the small screen that much of our real lives are now being lived out: our phones, tablets, TVs and laptops.

  • In our next posts we’ll look at how people are adapting to life onscreen
  • We’ll offer brands advice on how to navigate emerging buying dynamics
  • We’ll keep you updated on movements in the main measures

As we always say, these posts raise important questions about the role of research in a time of crisis, just as much as they stimulates questions about how the population is dealing with the unfolding, unravelling reality of life in the UK during a pandemic.

Our goal is simple; to help our clients and the business community stay in touch with our increasingly disrupted population and to help everyone better understand what’s going on and what it means for them.

Your comments and connections are welcome, if you would like to know more, to purchase more detailed data or analysis or would like to ask your own questions here.

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