About the IRIS COVID-19 Public Sentiment Survey
IRIS, a global network of independently owned market research institutes, recently conducted a multi-country market research study that aims to understand how the general public are feeling in relation to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The project surveyed respondents on their fears and concerns, confidence in government and the economy, and understanding toward COVID-19. Overall, 15 countries took part in this study, with all fieldwork undertaken online between March 27 and April 15, 2020. A nationally representative sample of adults aged 18+ was interviewed in each country.
This article is part of a series that will look specifically at results of the survey conducted in Japan by Sugata Research. The full report covering all participating countries in the IRIS COVID-19 Public Sentiment Survey can be downloaded from the link below.
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The previous two articles in this series covered results from the IRIS COVID-19 Public Sentiment Survey related to Japanese public sentiment toward government, the economy, and anxieties during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, results pertaining to how respondents in Japan understand COVID-19 and what attitudes they hold toward its prevention and spread will be explored. The results from Japan show a mixture of unclarity toward aspects of the coronavirus and COVID-19, while also revealing how adults in Japan take precautions against contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus. At the end of the article, a rundown of how the situation is currently changing in Japan and possible questions for future research is laid out, concluding the summary of Sugata Research’s findings for the IRIS survey in Japan.
As covered in the previous article, Japanese respondents generally tend to have a high level of anxiety toward the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in terms of personal health and the potential economic fallout the pandemic may cause. The survey results further make clear when respondents were asked their overall level of concern toward the COVID-19 pandemic, with Japan showing the highest level amongst all countries:
However, when polled on how worried respondents were about contracting the virus themselves, Japanese respondents showed only an average level of concern compared to other countries:
In the previous article, the results of the IRIS survey showed that Japanese respondents listed their own health as a top concern, with 79 percent of Japanese respondents indicating it as something they were anxious about. However, as indicated in the graph above, Japan does not seem to show a higher level of concern over contracting COVID-19 when compared to other countries. As suggested in the previous article, Japanese respondents seem to show more concern toward the pandemic in abstract and less immediate terms, such as one’s own health or economic prosperity in the future rather than the present.
The results also show a lack of confidence amongst Japanese respondents in knowing exactly what contracting the virus entails, with Japanese respondents being among the lowest to report a clear understanding of COVID-19 symptoms:
Japanese respondents were also slightly more worried on average about having the novel coronavirus although they have not been tested:
The high level of overall concern toward COVID-19 contrasts with a relatively low level of practicing social distancing in order to prevent the spread of the disease. When gauging how respondents amongst countries were witnessing the behavior of others out in public, Japanese respondents were among the highest to report seeing others not keeping social distance (56 percent) or engaging in other activities considered to pass on the virus (30 percent):
Furthermore, in the table shown below, Japanese respondents were the lowest amongst countries polled to answer that they were “avoiding social activities that would put you in contact with others”:
As seen above, Japan was also amongst the lowest in “avoiding public transportation and working remotely” (as discussed in the previous article). Given these results, it appears that social distancing is still not being adopted by Japanese respondents when compared with other countries. The reason for this is likely due to a variety of reasons, such as many Japanese workers continuing to go to work as normal but understanding reasons outside of that context will be necessary to explore in future research as well.
The table above also reveals that Japanese respondents, aside from social distancing, are taking precautions in a much similar way to other countries in the region, as highlighted below:
Overall, Japanese respondents showed high levels of concern for the COVID-19 pandemic, but somewhat less concern in contracting the virus personally. Respondents additionally showed some confusion over what the symptoms of COVID-19 are and whether they already had the virus or not. The results also suggested that social distancing in Japan is still relatively low compared to other countries (shown further in the following section), even while taking other precautions that are typical amongst neighboring countries such as wearing protective masks and increased handwashing.
In the final section of the IRIS survey, respondents were asked to “agree” or “disagree” with several statements related to how COVID-19 spreads and its risks Notably, Japanese respondents tended to side with the majority of other countries on agreeing and disagreeing with statements about COVID-19, showing a strong acknowledgement of the different ways in which the virus can be spread and that assumptions about the spread and severity of COVID-19 should not be made lightly.
For example, when respondents were asked to agree or disagree with whether the coronavirus can be spread asymptomatically, 91 percent of Japanese respondents agreed:
Half of Japanese respondents also disagreed with the idea that the virus can only be spread through close contact, reflecting the importance placed on handwashing as a preventive measure to the virus due to its possible spread by touching contaminated surfaces:
The belief that coronavirus can be spread by touching surfaces was also tested, with 66 percent of Japanese respondents agreeing:
While Japan was shown above to be amongst the heaviest users of masks to prevent contracting COVID-19, respondents were less inclined to think that masks were the best way to prevent contracting the disease, as shown below:
Despite previous results showing that Japanese respondents were less likely to practice social distancing compared with other countries, they nonetheless agreed with the notion that “everyone should assume to be carrying the virus and avoid social contact as much as possible”:
The result above suggests most Japanese agreed in the importance of social distancing. However, when asked about whether respondents were social distancing themselves, only 45 percent of Japanese respondents agreed, the lowest of countries polled
Social distancing can therefore be seen important for Japanese respondents, even while they are not putting it into practice on the same level as other countries in the survey. As mentioned above, getting a more in-depth understanding of why Japanese are not putting social distancing into practice – whether it is due to an inability to practice it because of needing to commute to work or otherwise, or due to the attitudes of the Japanese toward COVID-19 – will require more research as the pandemic continues.
The IRIS survey concluded on April 15, over two weeks prior to the publication of this article. What has changed for Japan in that time? Currently, there are signs that countermeasures toward the spread of COVID-19 as a part of the national state of emergency are yielding some results. On April 27, new cases of COVID-19 within a twenty-four hour period decreased to double-digits in Tokyo, a significant drop compared to the previous few weeks, before bumping back up to new cases in the triple-digits the following day.(*1)(*2) However, questions over the limitations of Japan’s current testing capacities for new cases of COVID-19 continue to cast doubt on whether the current number of cases reflect the reality of the situation. Currently, medical facilities in Japan are also nearing their capacity in terms of ICU beds to treat patients with COVID-19, making the threat of a further jump in cases all the more dire, while the number of hospitals equipped to handle infectious diseases remains insufficient.(*3)(*4)
Social distancing also appears to have improved as a result of the state of emergency. While not entirely hitting the government’s target of an 80 percent reduction in social interaction throughout Japan, social interaction and foot traffic has decreased significantly throughout some of the more typically busy areas of Tokyo.(*5)(*6) However, problems continue to persist in making social distancing successful. Part of this can be seen in public behavior, such as tourist areas like Enoshima continuing to see large numbers of people from Tokyo and other areas at its beaches. A larger issue remains in that many Japanese workers continue to commute and attend work as per usual, with Japanese firms proving incapable of moving their operations online due to a reliance on hand-stamped signatures for documents and other matters requiring workers to be on-site.(*7) Businesses such as pachinko parlors have also proven stubborn in their refusal to shut down amidst the pandemic, ignoring requests from local governments, which has prompted public-shaming campaigns to be considered as a potential way to combat the issue.(*8) However, given Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s insistence that providing direct compensation to local businesses for losses was “impossible”, many businesses have been left with little choice but to continue operations as usual in order to stay afloat.(*9)
Effects on the Japanese economy due to the pandemic also continue to emerge. Regional economies in particular are showing significant signs of struggle, as manufacturing areas feel the impact of reduced spending worldwide leading to a decrease in demand for Japanese exports.(10) Japan’s government continues to take financial measures in combating the economic effects of COVID-19, most notably adding an additional \8.88 trillion yen to its supplementary budget in order to provide a \100,000 direct cash payment to all Japanese residents starting from the month of May.(*11) Undoubtedly, the global economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will have large consequences for Japan’s economy, reflecting the high level of anxiety toward global recession and a loss of economic prosperity expressed by Japanese respondents throughout the IRIS COVID-19 Public Sentiment Survey.
Japan has now entered its Golden Week holiday season, which will undoubtedly prove to be another turning point in the country’s fight against COVID-19. The state of emergency in place is currently scheduled to end on May 6, with the government still debating on whether to extend it further.(*12) Hesitation on the part of the Japanese government appears to somewhat hinge on concerns over public frustration as a result of the state of emergency. However, what lies at the source of this public frustration? The IRIS survey clearly shows concern over the risks of COVID-19, and a large lack of confidence in the government’s handling of the situation and whether it is taking COVID-19 seriously. If the government ends the state of emergency as scheduled, it may end up causing further discontent if the root of the problem lies in the public believing that the government is not doing enough to protect them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conclusion to this series covering the results of the IRIS COVID-19 Public Sentiment Survey, Japanese respondents hold a largely pessimistic view of how their government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, we see a lack of confidence in how seriously the pandemic is being taken, both by the government and the public, how the pandemic will impact the economy, and how the pandemic will affect one’s health, lifestyle, and happiness. The results also show that while Japanese respondents agree as to how serious the COVID-19 pandemic is, they are largely unable to practice social distancing when compared to other countries, likely due to a need for many to continue working and living as normal without viable alternatives from the government or otherwise. The continuance of life as normal, with little changes in spending habits and taking activities online as a result of the pandemic, was also noticed in how Japanese responded to the IRIS survey.
Overall, the results from Japan in the IRIS survey suggest that Japanese may feel a great deal of fear and anxiety toward the COVID-19 pandemic, even while those fears may not yet be hitting many people on a personal and tangible level. Since the IRIS survey was concluded, several effects from the state of emergency in Japan have gradually come into view. With social distancing increasing and the extension of the nationwide state of emergency being quite possible, public sentiment in Japan has undoubtedly changed. In order to explore these changes, new questions must be posed and addressed through future research: What lies at the core of public frustration toward the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan? Is it frustration toward the inability to live life as “normal”, or that things have remained too “normal” given the seriousness of the pandemic? What would the public ideally like the government to do to better combat the spread of COVID-19? What would they like to see others do to act more appropriately? How have people changed in their behavior and lifestyles amidst increased social distancing? These questions, among many others, will need to be explored as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Japan and throughout the world.
(*1) Tokyo records just 72 coronavirus cases Sunday, in lowest daily figure since April 1/the japan times
(*2) Tokyo confirms 112 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday / the japan times
(*3) On Japan’s stretched front line, doctors and nurses DIY a coronavirus response / the japan times
(*4) Japan scenario projects ICU bed shortage in most prefectures during pandemic’s peak / the japan times
(*5) Few areas in Japan achieve 80% reduction in people going outside: data / the mainichi
(*6) Data show huge drops in urban traffic as Japan weighs state of emergency extension / the japan times
(*7) Despite stereotypes, low-tech Japan faces challenge in working from home / the japan times
(*8) Japan struggles to shut down pachinko parlors as it battles virus / NIKKEI ASIAN REVIER
(*9) (*12) Japan taking cautious approach to longer-term state of emergency extension / the japan times
(*10) Japan’s regional economies face ‘extremely severe situation,’ Finance Ministry warns / the japan times
(*11) Japanese government submits massive extra budget to fight coronavirus/ the japan times