Poll reveals support for vaccinations and compulsory masks

Fewer Australians say they would take a coronavirus vaccination now than at the outset of the pandemic, but a big majority of us support compulsory mask wearing and the closure of state borders.

A Roy Morgan survey of Australian attitudes to COVID-19 reveals 77 per cent are willing to be vaccinated when the vaccine becomes publicly available, down from 87 per cent in April 2020. Nearly three-quarters of Australians (72 per cent) say mask wearing should be compulsory and 68 per cent don’t want state borders to be completely open.

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says support for vaccinations is strong across all sections of the community “including both genders, people of all ages, supporters of different political parties and in every state and territory”.

“When it comes to the opening of state borders, the views of Australians tend to align with their respective state governments,” Ms Levine says.

“NSW has had the most open border policy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and only closed its borders once – when daily local cases of COVID-19 ballooned through 100 in early July.

“In NSW, a slim majority of 55 per cent of respondents are against all state borders being completely open today – clearly the lowest against opening the borders of any state.”

The next lowest majority is Victoria with 70 per cent. In Western Australia, home of the strictest border rules, 85 per cent of respondents wanted borders closed.

Support for compulsory wearing masks is highest among women (77 per cent) and people aged 65 plus (78 per cent). It is most supported in NSW (80 per cent) and Victoria (77 per cent). In contrast only 53 per cent of people in South Australia say mask wearing should be compulsory.

In Victoria, police officers who issued fines for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions, such as not wearing a mask, have been instructed to hand out cautions for unpaid infringements rather than proceed with charges.

“Even people who received numerous coronavirus-related infringements will now be placed on a diversion order, which allows the accused to avoid a conviction and payment of the fine by giving an undertaking to the court,” The Age reports.

The decision has frustrated officers who undertook the “thankless job” of enforcing the “deeply unpopular” COVID measures.

Despite thousands of such infringements (19,000 to October 2020 in Victoria), Australia’s COVID response is viewed by the rest of the world as compliant and successful.

And bushfires are part of the reason, says Dr Margaret Harris, an expert in emergency risk communication and a spokeswoman for World Health Organization (WHO).

She told the Australian Financial Review: “Australians know how these fires can spread, they know about spot fires and clusters, and why some areas are badly affected by the blaze and others not at all.”

She says Australian officials were “wide awake” to the threat posed by SARS in 2003.

“Public health officials in Australia found it very threatening and I don’t think that memory has been lost to the country.”

She believes this “immune memory” meant the government acted swiftly when confronted by the coronavirus crisis, moving the country into pandemic mode two weeks ahead of the WHO.

Ms Harris says accountable leadership is vital to a successful pandemic response.

“In a pandemic, if you ask people to do something, you must make it possible for them to do it. If you put them in quarantine, you have to ensure they have food. What if they are at risk of losing their jobs? What will they do with their children? What other commitments do they have?

“In communities where there is good leadership, such issues have been better thought through.

She says the first rule is to create trust.

“It is the hardest thing to achieve and is easily lost.

“One sure way is by failing to communicate uncertainty when an outbreak is evolving. No-one knows everything at the beginning and it’s important to say what you know and what you don’t know, without fear of being criticised. This way you can bring your population with you.

“Another common misstep is leaders not trusting or involving their communities.”

Are you proud of how Australia has handled the pandemic? Will you wear a mask in crowded venues?

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Written by Will Brodie

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