Australian Social Distancing Rates Falling While Distress, Loneliness and Job Loss Expectations Higher for Victorians

September 2, 2020 Updated: September 3, 2020

Australians are slacking off on COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and even locked down Victorians have dropped off marginally, a study shows.

The Australian National University research survey, released on Sept. 3, has been billed as the first study to compare experiences and attitudes of embattled Victorians with the rest of the nation.

After polling more than 3000 Australians, it found distress, loneliness and job loss expectations were unsurprisingly higher for those living Victoria.

But attention to physical distancing rules was down across the board, despite regional Victoria and Melbourne being plunged back into stage three and four lockdown.

Overall, 94.3 percent of Australians surveyed in April said they had always or mostly avoided crowded places in the previous seven days, but that figure dropped to 72.2 percent in August.

Those who always or mostly avoided public places fell even further, down from 86.5 percent to 55.8 percent

The 1.5-metre distance rule remained a staple for the vast majority of people but also decreased from 96 percent to 86.9 percent over the same span.

It wasn’t surprising behaviour had diverged noticeably between Victoria and the rest of the nation given the difference in restrictions, the report said.

Victorians were the most vigilant state but even it wasn’t immune to complacency on social distancing.

“The change was not consistent across the population,” study co-author Professor Matthew Gray said in a statement.

“Declines were greatest outside of Victoria. But even in that state, there has been fewer people following the requirements since April.”

The initial survey did not question respondents on mask use before they became compulsory in Melbourne and regional Victoria.

When researchers did, they found younger people were among the most likely to don a mask outdoors (39.3 percent) and indoors (37.3).

The study authors noted it was at odds with “discussion in the media and by politicians that young people are not observing distancing rules.”

“Rates of mask-wearing by those aged 18 to 24 years are similar to rates amongst those aged 75 years or older,” the report said.

“Both these groups are significantly more likely to wear masks than other age groups.”

Callum Godde