Since the outbreak of the COVID fifth wave, the city recorded over a million confirmed cases and the daily record surpassed 50,000. After two years into the pandemic, Hong Kong citizens start to experience “pandemic fatigue”. The Hong Kong government has announced to ease social distancing measures in phases starting from 21 April, making an adjustment to its “Zero-COVID/Dynamic Zero” policy.
A survey conducted by the Department of Media and Communication under the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, found that, as early as November last year, when the pandemic was relatively stable, Hong Kong citizens were already fatigued in the pandemic battle. Survey results showed that the majority of the respondents supported the “Live-with-COVID” policy, but there were also different stances on COVID policies depending on the respondents’ backgrounds.
This survey was led by Professor Christine HUANG Yi-hui, Chair Professor at the Department, together with Dr Crystal JIANG Li, Assistant Professors Dr Vincent WANG Xiaohui and Dr Nancy DAI Yue. Questionnaires with over 1,501 Hong Kong citizens aged 20+ had been conducted in November 2021 to understand the relationship between Hong Kong citizens’ policy stances and their personal backgrounds.
The major findings are as follows:
1. Approximately half of the respondents supported the “Living-with-COVID” policy, while about 35% of the respondents tended to opt for the “Zero-COVID” policy. 14.3% of the respondents were neutral about the issue (see Appendix I);
2. About 56.3% of the male respondents indicated a preference for the “Live-with-COVID” policy, which is significantly higher than that among the female respondents. Female respondents were more supportive of the “Zero-COVID” policy (see Appendix II);
3. Compared to other age groups, senior respondents (aged 50+) were more supportive of the “Zero-COVID” policy. About 43% of the senior group (aged 50+) indicated acceptance of the “Zero-COVID” policy, while only 30% among other age groups supported this policy. In the age group of 20-49, more than half of the respondents supported the "Live-with-COVID" policy, while about 45.1% of the senior group (aged 50+) agreed with the “Live-with-COVID” policy (see Appendix III);
4. Compared to the group with a bachelor’s degree and above, the group with lower education levels were more supportive of the “Zero-COVID” strategy. Over half of those with a bachelor’s degree and above supported the “Live-with-COVID” policy, while less than half of those with lower education levels supported it (see Appendix IV);
5. Groups with higher monthly household incomes were more likely to support the “Live-with-COVID” policy. Among those who had a monthly household income of HK$40,000 or more, more than half of them supported the “Live-with-COVID" policy (See Appendix V);
6. There was a significant correlation between personal health status and COVID policy stance. Compared to the group with good health status, the groups with moderate health status or poor health status were more likely to support the “Zero-COVID” policy (see Appendix VI).
To sum up, after controlling for the influences of demographic variables (e.g. age, gender, education level and income), the study found that citizens’ risk perception, trust in the government, political beliefs regarding the pandemic, and media exposure were significantly associated with their COVID policy stances. Specifically, when citizens perceived a higher likelihood of infection, had more trust in the government, paid more attention to COVID-related news in various media (including newspapers, TV, websites, social media, short video platforms, mobile phones), they were more likely to support the “Zero-COVID” policy. On the contrary, when citizens perceived a lower likelihood of infection, had less trust in the government, paid less attention to COVID-related news, they were more likely to support the “Live-with-COVID” policy.
Professor Christine Huang Yi-hui said, “As the COVID-19 has gradually become a ‘normalised’ event, recently there have been considerable discussions in the international community over the ‘Live-with-COVID’ and ‘Zero-COVID’ policies. On one hand, after a long period of the lockdown, individuals and countries/regions hope to go back to normal life and resume international interactions. On the other hand, the emergence of new variants is still life-threatening. Every country/region is faced with choosing between the two or combining the two policies in the battle against COVID. This research survey found that under the implementation of the ‘Zero-COVID’ policy, the public has more expectations for the ‘Live-with-COVID’ policy.” She continued, “In the fifth outbreak, we observed that the citizens gradually returned to their daily routines after the initial panic. Their willingness of going out did not drop significantly. These all indicated the citizens showed signs of fatigue, and their persistence in containment started to decline. In the next phase, it is important for the government to eliminate Hong Kong citizens’ fatigue under the challenge of new waves of variants and pandemics. Living with COVID doesn’t mean to give up fighting against it.”
Dr Crystal Jiang Li added, “With the continuous evolution of the COVID pandemic, there is a dynamic process in how citizens change their attitudes towards COVID policies. Recently, we also observed some differentiation in Hong Kong public opinions over two COVID policies. The government and experts should fully recognise the different opinions and provide more targeted responses to address citizens’ needs and doubts.”
Dr Vincent Wang Xiaohui said, “It is worth noting that citizens’ personal backgrounds affect their attitudes towards COVID policies. Therefore, when making decisions over COVID-related policies and measures, policymakers should consider the needs of citizens from different backgrounds and classes. The policies need to balance citizens’ expectations for returning to normal life while ensuring their health.”
Dr Nancy Dai Yue added, “The public’s risk assessments and acceptance of COVID policies are largely affected by personal background and media exposure. In a complex media environment, it is helpful for the general public to consciously increase their media literacy to prevent unnecessary panic from exposure to misinformation.”