The coronavirus has the Netherlands in its grips. To gain insight into how people view the imposed coronavirus measures in the Netherlands, their motivation in adhering to the measures, and what the impact is on their daily lives, RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment and GGD GHOR (the Netherlands Municipal Public Health Services and Medical Assistance in Accidents and Disasters) are conducting a large-scale study on this topic. The study explores human behaviour, what people think of the government’s behavioural measures, and how they are doing physically, mentally and socially in these corona times.

Third behavioural study

Many people willing to isolate at home in case of positive COVID-19 test

The sense of threatening danger from the novel coronavirus is declining. People are feeling less anxious and despondent than in the initial phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Compliance with hygiene measures, such as frequent handwashing and sneezing into the elbow, remains stable. Staying 1.5 metres apart is growing more difficult, and that includes visits in the home. Many people with cold symptoms indicate that they are not staying indoors or do not plan to get tested. However, if they themselves or their household members were to test positive for COVID-19, many people are willing to go into home isolation for two weeks.

This was clear from the third behavioural study conducted by RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment , the Netherlands Municipal Public Health Services and Medical Assistance in Accidents and Disasters (GGD-GHOR) and the regional public health services (GGDs). These insights help the Dutch government to provide better support and information to citizens. The results were taken from the third survey of 64,000 people in week 22 (27 May - 1 June) and compared to results from the previous surveys.

People are going outside more and have started visiting each other more often (+15%), and that includes family members and friends who are older or have underlying health problems (+5 to +8%). This is in line with the decision to ease the government measures. At the same time, fewer people feel lonely (-12%). Also, the number of people who indicate that they feel more or much more anxious or despondent than before the crisis is decreasing (-15%) and the virus is perceived as less threatening (-13%). The percentages show the difference between the first measurement in mid-April compared to the current measurement at the end of May.

Hygiene measures

As people start seeing each other again in person, it becomes increasingly important to keep following the measures that are still in place. Although people are still complying with hygiene measures, such as frequent handwashing and sneezing into the elbow, improvements could still be made in how often people wash their hands thoroughly. In half of the situations where people should wash their hands thoroughly, they actually do so. 

Compared to the first measurement, the number of times that people manage to keep their distance has decreased by about 10%. And that not only applies in places where many other people are present, such as at work and in the supermarket, but also during home visits – even indoors, where people are often close together for longer periods of time.  

Willingness to test for COVID-19

As of 1 June, anyone with symptoms can be tested. Survey participants were asked at the end of May if they would like to be tested. 67% of people without cold symptoms said they would get tested if they developed symptoms. People who did have symptoms answered the same question differently: 28% said that they wanted to get tested. One of the reasons that people often provided for not getting tested is that they do not attribute their symptoms to the novel coronavirus. People who estimate that they have a higher risk of contracting the virus, and believe that testing helps to prevent the virus from spreading, are more willing to get tested. 

Home isolation especially after positive COVID-19 test

To prevent the spread of the virus, home isolation (staying at home for two weeks) in case of suspected COVID-19 is very important. This advice applies to people who have cold symptoms, coughing, shortness of breath, elevated temperature or fever, or sudden loss of smell or taste (without nasal congestion). Of people who have these symptoms, 77% said they had left home in the week prior to the survey, and 51% said people had visited their home.  It is possible that many of them also do not attribute their symptoms to the novel coronavirus. 

However, 95% of these people are prepared to go into home isolation if they were to receive a positive COVID-19 test result. This percentage decreases somewhat if a household member were to test positive (84%), and less than half of the people indicate that they would go into home isolation if they had met someone from outside their household who later turned out to have COVID-19 (43%).