Following a period of relaxed measures, the sharp increase in infection rates and hospital admissions led to the implementation of a new suite of measures just prior to the current survey round (24-28 November). Staying 1.5 metres apart was required again, the advice to work from home was elevated to an urgent recommendation, and opening hours for cafés, restaurants and shops were restricted. As a result of the unfavourable epidemiological figures, the perceived threat of the COVID-19 virus has increased considerably. Survey participants are just as worried about the virus again now as they were last winter.

Less social activity and better compliance with behavioural recommendations

As the perceived threat increases, participants in this round of the behavioural survey reported far less social activity. For example, they visited family and friends or went to cafés and restaurants less often: about as much as they did last autumn. Now that these locations are less crowded, it is easier to stay 1.5 metres apart. There has been a sharp increase in this area compared to the previous round, but participants are also distancing less than they did a year ago. Compliance with other behavioural recommendations is also better in this round: more participants reported that they did not shake hands, people worked from home more often, and more participants are getting tested and staying at home if they have symptoms.

Survey participants indicated that they found it easier to comply with the measures compared to the previous survey round. Moreover, support has increased for all measures, even if the measures would continue to apply for another six months. Compliance has also increased among participants who find it easier to comply with the measures and among participants who support the measures more.

Much more testing in case of symptoms, self-testing also growing

In the last few weeks, there have been long waiting lists to schedule a COVID-19 test with the Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs). There was a major increase in the percentage of survey participants who were tested by the GGD if they had symptoms (without an underlying health condition): rising from 29% in the previous survey round to 45% now. In addition, 32% used a self-test, which means that less than a quarter (23%) of the participants with symptoms did not test at all. The same increase is also observed among children. In the previous survey round, 40% of children with symptoms were tested by the GGD, compared to 58% in this round (and 29% used a self-test). A small percentage of participants who did not get tested when they had symptoms (8%) did not do so because of how busy the GGD was. Self-testing increased among all age groups. Nearly half of all participants (48%) used at least 1 self-test in the six weeks prior to the survey. The type of test used depends on the severity and number of symptoms, among other factors. Participants who were tested by the GGD were more likely to have had multiple or more severe symptoms than participants who used a self-test or did not test at all.

More participants are fed up, decline in well-being

Nearly half of the participants (46%) indicated that they were tired of hearing about the coronavirus. This is the highest percentage since this indicator was first measured in May 2021.  In addition, more participants say that they feel stressed because they are trying to comply with all the measures (18%). The entries in the open comment section indicate that participants are losing track over time because of the many changes to the suite of measures. Some also mention that although they understand that measures are necessary, they feel that the necessity does not apply to them because they have already been vaccinated.

After a period of recovery since January 2021, the stricter measures and reduced social activities are accompanied by a decline in well-being. Some survey participants even explicitly state that they support the measures, but also note that the personal impact of compliance (such as diminished well-being, monotony or loneliness) no longer outweigh the potential benefits (for others). Compared to the previous survey round, fewer participants report that their mental health is good, and more participants sometimes feel lonely. These changes are strongest among young people aged 16 to 24 years. Moreover, well-being among unvaccinated participants is lower.

Low confidence in COVID-19 policy, perceived need for more measures

Confidence in the government’s COVID-19 policies has reached its lowest point since the start of the pandemic; just 16% of survey participants are positive (39% neutral, 46% negative). Nearly half (47%) believe that the Netherlands is doing worse than other countries. Reasons for that low confidence mentioned by survey participants are that the government should have learned from the previous waves of infections in terms of implementing measures and that the coronavirus entry pass should be deployed more extensively. They note that other countries were faster to take action. Many survey participants are critical about the measures and consider them illogical or difficult to understand. Among participants who are negative about how the government is responding to COVID-19, nearly three-quarters (71%) felt that the measures being taken to control the coronavirus were not enough, while 17% felt that the government had adopted far too many measures. However, even among participants who are still positive about COVID-19 policies, more than half (56%) feel that there are not enough measures in place.

These findings and more were clear from the seventeenth round of the survey-based study conducted by the RIVM Corona Behavioural Unit in cooperation with GGD GHOR Nederland and the 25 Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs), conducted between 24 and 28 November 2021 among 46,441 participants. Three-quarters of the participants completed the survey before the ‘evening lockdown’ was announced. This announcement had a minimal impact on the results of the group that completed the questionnaire after that point; there were no significant differences between the groups.