Four in five Australians expect to catch COVID, survey finds

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Four in five Australians expect to catch COVID-19, a long-term tracking survey has found, with many fearing the worst of the pandemic is ahead of the country and concern rising about the nation’s overall direction.

The Australian National University tracking survey of Australians’ attitudes and experiences of the coronavirus also shows more than half of all adults have taken either a rapid antigen test or a PCR test in the past three months, while a fifth of people have wanted to but been unable to carry one out.

A new survey has revealed the problems many people face when trying to get tested for COVID-19.Credit:Cole Bennetts

The survey, the 10th since the ANU began its COVID-19 monitoring program, is based on responses from 3472 people taken between January 17 and 31. It is one of the longest-running surveys about COVID-19 in the country.

The survey was taken at the height of Omicron infections in mid-January and found 80 per cent of respondents believed they would be infected with the virus in the next six months.

“This is a doubling compared to October 2021, when two in five, or 40 per cent, of Australians thought they would be infected,” study co-author Professor Matthew Gray said.

That fear of getting COVID-19, on top of the large number of infections and deaths reported in January, fed into a major deterioration in Australians’ outlook.

In October, almost 55 per cent of people surveyed believed that the worst of the pandemic was behind Australia. Last month, this had fallen to 40 per cent.

Such concern about the pandemic has fed directly into large falls in satisfaction in the country’s direction, confidence in the federal government and attitudes towards major institutions.

Satisfaction has fallen back to where it was during last year’s Delta wave, when large parts of the country were in lockdown, and about the same level as the January 2020 bushfire crisis.

In May 2020, the survey found 60.6 per cent of respondents had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the federal government. In January, this had fallen to 34.5 per cent, a little above the bushfire crisis low of 27.3 per cent.

It’s not just the federal government. Just over 50 per cent of respondents were confident in their state or territory government, down from more than 70 per cent in early 2021.

Study co-author Nicholas Biddle says confidence in government management of the pandemic has waned.

“One of the potential reasons for this drop in satisfaction with the direction of the country is that respondents don’t feel that key institutions are handling the pandemic as well as they have in the past, or as well as they should be doing given the current circumstances,” study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said.

Part of the waning in overall government confidence may be due to concerns about the health and hospital system, with confidence falling sharply between October last year and January this year.

“Although people are still quite confident in the health system, clearly the handling of the pandemic and the ongoing wave of Omicron infections is starting to take a real toll on how all major institutions are viewed by Australians,” Professor Biddle said.

The survey found 56 per cent of adults took a COVID test in the past three months. But in a sign of the pressure on the health system, 22.4 per cent of adults through the same period were unable to get tested when they wanted or needed to.

Almost 76 per cent of those unable to do a test said they were unable to find a RAT in their local area.

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