During the previous survey round in mid-June, vaccination was proceeding well, and the epidemiological figures were showing very favourable trends. Confidence in coronavirus policy increased for the first time in a long while, and support for extending measures for a much longer period decreased. Since then, the relaxed measures implemented at the end of June and the subsequent surge of the coronavirus have resulted in a major change: public confidence in policy has fallen again in the current survey round (28 July – 1 August), while support for continuing to maintain measures has risen.

Increase in threat from the virus, lower confidence in government policies

Following the recent surge of the coronavirus, survey participants reported an increase in the perceived threat from the virus. In addition, 71% of the participants indicated that they are concerned about new coronavirus variants. Almost half of the participants (49%) were positive about the Dutch government’s approach in the previous round, but this figure has dropped to 31% in the current round. Over one-third of the participants think that the government is not taking sufficient measures to prevent the further spread of the virus, and half of the participants think that sufficient measures are being taken. Participants are critical of the conditions used to impose or relax measures (26% agree, 29% neutral) and the timing of when this happens (21% agree, 26% neutral). Moreover, only 21% think that the government is following a clear course (28% neutral).

Increased support for continuing measures for longer

After a decline in support for most measures during the previous survey round, support among participants in this round has remained the same or even risen. Support for continuing the measures is particularly strong for a period of six more months. More participants are open to continuing the measures for longer. The greatest increase was seen in support for avoiding crowds, staying 1.5 metres apart, working from home, and wearing a face mask in public transport.

Avoiding crowds remains difficult, especially at parties, restaurants and cafés, and cultural institutions

Survey participants indicated that they had gone out more often in the week prior to the survey to take part in social and cultural activities, such as parties and visits to cafés, restaurants and cultural institutions. As these locations become busier, it becomes more difficult to maintain a sufficient distance from others within that context. On the other hand, in this survey round, fewer participants left their homes to go to school or work or to participate in organised sports. The number of participants who received visitors at home remained the same since the last survey round. The summer holidays may play a role in these results.

Similarly, few changes occurred in the well-being of the survey participants since the last round. The levels of psychological health, loneliness and mental well-being reported by participants are almost the same as in the previous survey round. There has been a minor increase in well-being among young people aged 16-24. However, young people still scored lower than all other age groups.

When symptoms occur: less testing by GGD, more self-testing

This survey round showed a continued decrease in the percentage of participants who were tested by the Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs) or a commercial testing company in the past 6 weeks if they had symptoms not caused by an underlying health condition (48% now compared to 52% in the previous round), although the downward trend was less pronounced than in the previous round. Participants indicated that they did not get tested by the GGD because the symptoms were only mild, or because the participant had already been vaccinated or had already done a self-test and therefore did not consider testing necessary. One-fifth of all participants had used a self-test in the past six weeks, and half of those had done so more than once. Participants used a self-test to get more assurance that they did not have the coronavirus or could not infect others when visiting school or work, or because of symptoms that could be related to COVID-19. People who have symptoms are still urgently advised to get tested by the GGD.

Measures observed even during holidays

In the past six weeks, 38% of participants went on holiday, and 63% of those stayed in the Netherlands. Some of the participants took additional measures, in addition to vaccination, to safely go on holiday abroad. For example, 58% of travellers were particularly careful to comply with the measures in the two weeks before their holiday abroad, and almost everyone complied with the measures that were in effect that that location during their holiday. In addition, 79% of unvaccinated travellers got tested for COVID-19 before departing to travel abroad.

All travellers returning from abroad are advised to get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible after their return. This advice was followed to a limited extent by participants in the behavioural survey: 12% of participants who returned from an area with a green colour code got tested for COVID-19 after their return, compared to 13% returning from a yellow area and 26% returning from a red area.   

These findings and more were clear from the fourteenth round of the survey-based study conducted by the RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment Corona Behavioural Unit in cooperation with GGD GHOR and the 25 Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs), conducted between 28 July and 1 August 2021 among 37,874 participants.