From March 2020 and throughout the whole year, the Business Information, Social and Marketing Research Center “BISAM – Central Asia” had been monitoring public sentiments and social situation by tracking changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The information was collected within the framework of international surveys by Gallup International, whose representative in Kazakhstan is BISAM Central Asia, as well as a number of special measurements. The surveys were carried out on a nationally representative sample, as well as on urban and special samples ranging in size from 500 to 2000 respondents.
Today, contrary to the expectations of both general public and specialists, the pandemic continues and, apparently, is not going to leave humanity in 2021 either. The results of sociological monitoring make it possible to see qualitatively new behavioral traits of people and societies, which are important for the health care system, the socio-economic policies of countries, and for business strategies.
Fright and Bravado
In March 2020, when Kazakhstan declared the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency and the sample of the survey did not include a single respondent who had been infected or whose relatives and friends had been infected, fear of coronavirus was experienced by 53% of the respondents. At the same time, however, a noticeably large proportion of respondents – 60%, believed that the threat of coronavirus was exaggerated.
By April, the situation had changed. The share of those who had a fear of being infected increased by 5%, and the share of “covidoskeptics”, those who were convinced that the threat of coronavirus was exaggerated, decreased to 47%. Here, however, Kazakhstan fell out of the world trend. Globally, bravado over the coronavirus had weakened significantly more. In the United States the proportion of those who had a fear of being infected increased by 25%, in Germany – by 22%. Most other countries recorded the dynamics close to these indicators. In this context Kazakhstanis turned out to be almost the most courageous people in the world in the face of the coronavirus.
By June, Kazakhstanis had relaxed. The share of those who feared of being infected dropped to 45% with an increase in “covidoskepticism” to the March level and even slightly higher. However, a few days after this measurement, the COVID-19 situation in the country began to escalate sharply.
In the next six months 6% of respondents had a confirmed coronavirus or suspected an infection. Accordingly, the share of “covidoskeptics” significantly decreased – to 44% of respondents in December 2020 compared to 60% in the first half of the year.
And yet, by the end of 2020, more than a third of respondents were convinced that COVID-19 was no different from a seasonal flu.
Measures to combat coronavirus had complicated the lives of Kazakhstanis much more than the virus itself. By June 2020, 76% of Kazakhstanis who participated in the Gallup / BISAM survey had experienced reduction of family income. Quarantine forced the overwhelming majority of respondents to learn how to save on almost all items of the family budget. Only 12% of those surveyed said that they did not have to “tighten their belts.” 32% saved on food, 43% – on medical services, 58% – on perfumes and cosmetics and 67% – on purchases of clothes and shoes.
In the first months of quarantine, 58% of the working respondents switched to a new mode of work (remote work, online services, take-out orders, etc.). About two thirds of the respondents reacted negatively to this transition.
An even more negative reaction was caused by the transition to distance learning, which affected almost all school, college and university students. On the eve of the academic year 2020-2021, 86% of parents of students, 74% of teachers of all types of educational institutions and 68% of students expressed their belief that distance learning has reduced the quality of education.
The emotional state of Kazakhstanis had noticeably deteriorated. Almost all respondents experienced anxiety and stress. More than 70% of the respondents had to change their plans for the future and limit their circle of contacts.
Assessment of State Measures
Despite material losses and emotional deterioration, the majority of the interviewed Kazakhstanis treated the measures of the state with understanding and approval throughout the entire period of quarantine restrictions. In March, 62% of respondents agreed with the statement that the government was coping well with the coronavirus, the number went up to 73% in April and 74% in June. However, there was some decline in the indicator at the end of the year, but it still retained a fairly high value of 66%.
Who is Guilty?
With regard to responsibility for the spread of COVID-19, Kazakhstanis have found a fairly rational approach. Against the background of an infectious disease, their self-awareness turned out to be quite healthy. About 80% of respondents agreed with the statement that people who refused to comply with the quarantine rules were responsible for the spread of coronavirus infection. However, there were also quite a few respondents who were ready to assign responsibility on “external forces”. More than a half of those surveyed believed that China was to some extent responsible for the pandemic, and a third of them thought it was the United States. About 60% believed that the World Health Organization had not performed properly in the fight against the pandemic.
Fifty four percent of survey participants supported the belief that the virus originated in the process of development and testing of biological weapons. Like any collisions, the pandemic caused a craving for conspiracy theories.
Toughened Up and Adapted?
So can we say that Kazakhstanis have mastered a new lifestyle that is adapted to the pandemic? Hardly. As the monitoring showed, the mood of Kazakhstanis was characterized by doubts, uncertainty and suspicion throughout the year. Ultimately, this was expressed in vigilance in relation to vaccination. Only 56% of respondents are ready to be vaccinated, even with a full guarantee of the safety and efficacy of vaccines. The average indicator for the sample of respondents in more than 40 countries is significantly higher – 67%. Kazakhstan lags behind not only the countries of South-East Asia with their indicators of 84-98%, but also behind most of the Western countries and most of the CIS countries. However, it is ahead of Russia, where, despite the massive scale of vaccination, the share of those who do not agree to be vaccinated (46%) exceeds the share of those respondents who are willing to be vaccinated (43%).
Throughout the year, Kazakhstanis were constantly disappointed in their expectations. In June 2020, 65% of those surveyed were confident that the situation would return to normal by the end of the year. This, as known, did not happen, and the forecasts became much more pessimistic.Thus, both the state and businesses will have to develop and adjust models designed for extraordinary and unstable.
Leonid Gurevich, President
Marketing and Communications Manager
BUSINESS INFORMATION, SOCIAL AND MARKETING
RESEARCH CENTER “BISAM – CENTRAL ASIA”