Citizen's Science Project A population-wide survey to find out about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated restrictive measures in Ireland.

Research teams at NUI Galway, Dublin City University, and the Insight SFI Centre for Data Analytics based at NUI Galway, worked together on a population-wide survey to find out about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated restrictive measures (lock down, social distancing) on daily life in Ireland.

The Corona Citizens’ Science Project was a national anonymous online survey seeking to understand how people are dealing with the pandemic and how it has impacted on their home life; working life; childcare arrangements; physical and emotional wellbeing.

The survey asked about the impact of the measures imposed by the government starting from the ‘Containment Phase’ (February 29th); the “Delay Phase” following the March 12th announcement regarding the closure of all schools, colleges and childcare facilities and the restrictions imposed on March 27th requesting people to stay at home until May 5th, and including for at risk groups, and over 70s to “cocoon”.

The second phase of the population wide survey, the Corona Citizens’ Science Project will ask the public which social restrictions they would prefer to see lifted.

The First Survey Findings

The survey found 75 percent of Irish people feel they’ve changed their behaviour in public during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, just 37 percent of people surveyed felt that others have changed their behaviour during that time.

92 per cent of people said they understand the measures around social distancing and 85 per cent of people said they have adapted their behaviour at home. The figures were also similarly high with regards to social isolation and the advice around leisure activities.

The findings will be used to contribute to informing the government response to the pandemic and to also assist in planning future measures for COVID-19 and beyond.

The survey went live on Wednesday, April 8th and people nationwide were encouraged to fill in the questionnaire from 6am for a period of 24 hours. The survey was carried out again on April 22nd, following a similar format.

Findings From April 22nd

People were asked about the removal of restrictions and their understanding of those restrictions, medical appointments, their health, childcare, employment, working from home and schooling their children.

When it came to restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus, respondents were asked which of five restrictions they would like to see removed. 50% chose lifting the 2km limit on movement, 37% chose lifting the ban on small group gatherings, 33% favoured returning to work and 32% opted for the reopening of schools. The re-opening of shops, pubs and restaurants was the least popular choice - 48% of respondents made it their fifth choice out of five.

The survey also identified that 32% of respondents (10,830 people) reported postponing medical treatment or check-ups. Of that group, more than half (55%) said this was because the healthcare professional was not seeing any patients at the moment. Of these, 39% said they did not want to create extra pressure in the health system and 26% were concerned about the risk of contracting Covid-19.

In terms of people's health and whether or not they may have contracted Covid-19, this survey found that 11% of respondents indicated they had experienced flu-like symptoms, this was down from 17% in the previous survey and 3% indicated they had these symptoms in the past two weeks (down from 6%).

Of the people with flu-like symptoms, 48% thought it was coronavirus, but only 42% contacted their GP (previously it was 53%). Among people who called their GP, 27% were referred for testing (down from 36%). These tests were positive for 25% (up from 10% in the last survey) and negative for 42%. A further 17% were waiting for results (down from 36%) and 5% were waiting for a test (down from 37%).

Findings from June

Over 2,500 people responded to the survey. 50% indicated that they feel the government is balancing the removal of restrictions with that of social and economic well-being.

52% of respondents reported wearing face masks while 73% said they would wear a face mask if it meant reducing the distance from 2 metres to 1 metre.

Half of all respondents said they adhered to all the restrictions that were in place while 44% said they broke some of them occasionally.

73% said Covid-19 had no impact on their sex life. However, 42% of those under 25 and a third of 25-35 year olds said it had a negative impact.

46% of people said they smoked more during lockdown and half of respondents said their drinking habits changed. The survey found that four out of every ten began to exercise more.

The number of people who have postponed medical treatment or check-ups remained the same as previous waves at about 31%.

About 58% (1488) of respondents indicated to be more or even much more anxious while 10% indicated to be less anxious. The anxiety is mainly due to the worry of catching the virus (70%); 35% also indicated worry about other health problems; 34% about the relaxation of restrictions; 25% about their finances or their business.

Most people were employed (69%) while, similar to other surveys, students made up 4%, and homemakers 8% but a higher percentage were retired respondents (12%).

The number of people who report flu-like symptoms dropped to 2% (previously 2.5%, 3% and 6% in the first wave).

If a Covid-19 vaccine were to become available, 59% (1543) say they will get it, 32% (842) maybe and 8% not. This is similar to the people who say they will get a flu-vaccine this year (57%) even though only 35% said they got the flu-vaccine last year.

Dr Akke Vellinga, Epidemiologist/Senior Lecturer, NUI Galway, joint research lead said: “The response of the Irish people to the restrictive measures has been great, but are they taking their toll? This is an opportunity for the Irish people to let us know how we can help. We are calling on everyone to fill out the survey and share the link. We need your help.”

Professor Anthony Staines, Professor of Health Systems, DCU and joint research lead said: “This is a unique opportunity for all Irish people to shape our Government’s response to this unprecedented crisis, and start the long journey back to a more normal life, as the pandemic recedes.”

The Corona Citizens’ Science Project follows a similar study carried out in Belgium by the University of Antwerp. The survey was conducted on three separate occasions; commencing on March 17th and gathering responses from over 1.5 million people.

Key takeaways showed that 32% of respondents had trouble concentrating; 30% were sleeping less and 42% felt under more pressure. The research team found that as the weeks progressed, the percentage levels began to increase. The information was used to inform government policy on how well the population was responding to the measures imposed