MFO Covid-19 study: High satisfaction in gov’t and Health Ministry, less trust in media

“[…] While international media is the top source for information on the outbreak, the public also places focus on local television channels, and government websites. Locally, government sources take precedence, with the Ministry of Health being considered the most trustworthy source.

“[…] Despite the fear and concern for economic well-being, there is strong support for the closure of borders, schools and non-essential businesses. This exemplifies the overall population’s willingness to prioritise the mitigation of contact spread…”

The following information was drawn from a Consumer Outlook Study on Covid-19 by Market Facts & Opinions (MFO), which was conducted between 7 and 22 April 2020:

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

What do Trinidad and Tobago citizens think of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Market Facts & Opinions (MFO) sought to ‘gauge the national perceptions and sentiments about the impact of the disease’ through this study, which aims to determine:

  • The level of confidence in the government to treat with COVID-19 and to mitigate its spread;
  • The sources of information used to obtain knowledge and developments about Covid-19;
  • The general knowledge, attitudes and perceptions about Covid-19;
  • The levels of concern over factors affected by Covid-19: health, personal finances, economic, social and political;
  • The change in spending habits over the last six months;
  • The adaptation in daily activities and general lifestyle.

MFO spoke to 936 persons, split down the middle in terms of sex. There were similar percentages in each age group with the largest (23 percent) in the 25-34 category and the smallest (12 percent) aged between 65 and over.

Seventy one percent of responders live in owned homes while 20 percent are in rented residences and nine have ‘other arrangements’. Thirty-one percent of persons have first or ACCA degrees while 28 percent have a vocational, technical or associate degrees and the third highest category, 17 percent, have post-graduate degrees.

Photo: Cindy’s Bakery in Penal lays down ground rules for customers.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Eighteen percent of respondents hold professional degrees but work in non-managerial positions while 15 percent are administrative, secretarial or clerical and 13 percent are retired or unemployed.

Thirty-nine percent are of mixed ethnicity, 37 percent identify as African and 24 percent as East Indian while the geographical breakdown is: west (35 percent), south (25 percent), east (24 percent), central (15 percent) and Tobago (1 percent).

And here is what they had to say:

How do you all feel?

Twenty five percent of respondents claimed to be optimistic about the future while 53 percent felt uncertain with the rest: pessimistic (12 percent), comfortable (8 percent) and indifferent (2 percent). The feeling of optimism was slightly higher than studies revealed in 2019 (23 percent) but just below the level of 2018 (30 percent). However, the sense of uncertainty doubled from 27 percent in 2019.

Notably, the most optimistic persons were aged between 45-54 (35 percent) while the most pessimistic were between 18-24 years of age (17 percent).

In terms of the government’s response to Covid-19, 80 percent of the people surveyed were either satisfied (44 percent) or very satisfied (40 percent) with nine percent described as ‘neither nor’ and 7 percent dissatisfied.

Photo: MFO shares the mood of respondents from its Consumer Outlook Study on Covid-19.
(via MFO)

There was a bit less enthusiasm about the government’s financial and social relief efforts. In this case, 16 percent were very satisfied, 43 percent satisfied, 22 percent neither nor and 14 percent dissatisfied.

The international media accounted for 60 percent of the respondents’ source of news on the pandemic with local television (52 percent), government websites (48 percent), social media (44 percent) and local media websites (38 percent) respectively.

However, on the matter of ‘trustworthiness’, the Ministry of Health’s press conferences were deemed very trustworthy by 60 percent of persons surveyed with 34 percent finding them ‘somewhat trustworthy’ and only 7 percent finding them ‘not very trustworthy’.

It meant persons had more trust in the Ministry of Health that any other arm of the government while the local medical community of doctors, nurses and pharmacists polled: very trustworthy (36 percent), somewhat trustworthy (57 percent) and not very trustworthy (7 percent).

Incidentally, the international medical community returned a score of very trustworthy (41 percent), somewhat trustworthy (54 percent) and not very trustworthy (5 percent)—which made it less credible, according to MFO findings, than the Ministry of Health but better off than local healthcare professionals.

Photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh (left) and CMO Dr Roshan Parasram.

Trinidad and Tobago’s media did not do as well.

Local television channels were deemed very trustworthy by just 28 percent of respondents, with 65 percent considering them somewhat trustworthy and seven percent declaring them not very trustworthy.

(Press releases from the Ministry of National Security, incidentally, were declared not very trustworthy by nine percent of persons surveyed, which was the highest for the government arms mentioned.)

Local news sites returned figures of 17 percent (very trustworthy), 68 percent (somewhat trustworthy) and 15 percent (not very trustworthy) with local radio stations garnering 14 percent (very trustworthy), 69 percent (somewhat trustworthy) and 17 percent (not very trustworthy).

The local newspapers fared worse with 12 percent (very trustworthy), 70 percent (somewhat trustworthy) and 19 percent (not very trustworthy).

To put that into context, respondents were more ready to believe what they heard from friends and family which was considered 14 percent (very trustworthy), 56 percent (somewhat trustworthy) and 30 percent (not very trustworthy).

Photo: MFO’s readings on trustworthiness from its Consumer Outlook Study on Covid-19.
(via MFO)

MFO found that international news sites and media were considered very trustworthy by 29 percent and 27 percent of persons surveyed respectively.

On the issue of face masks, 29 percent of people believe that they offer protection from the novel coronavirus while 57 percent think they are no help and 14 percent don’t know.

Ninety-seven percent of people said that they are taking extra care to avoid bringing Covid-19 home to their family. However, 80 percent admitted to worrying about financial hardships as a result of the pandemic while 75 percent believe ‘the economic impact of Covid-19 will be greater than the outbreak itself’.

Still, there was an overwhelming support for the government’s measure to combat the virus with over 90 percent of respondents agreeing with the closure of airports and mandatory quarantine for persons who travelled outside of the country or are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Likewise 97 percent of respondents support the government’s decision to close schools and day-cares and reduce the size of gatherings in public places. Eighty-five percent agreed with the closure of non-essential business while 72 percent were happy with the closure of fast-food restaurants, although 15 percent disagreed.

Photo: A Penal store is closed due to Covid-19 restrictions and urges customers to stay home.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

The early release of selected inmates was far less popular with 31 percent of persons in agreement while 34 percent disagreed.

How has Covid-19 impacted on personal finances?

A large section of the MFO’s respondents appeared to be persons who would be considered middle-class citizens. Sixty-six percent of them are earning less as a result of the pandemic while 46 percent temporarily lost their jobs and 22 percent lost them outright. Seventy percent of respondents have continued to make monthly loan payments.

As far as concerns about Covid-19 go, 66 percent of persons were very concerned with someone from their household becoming sick with the virus, 53 percent were just as worried about falling behind on payments like rent, mortgage, loans, etc and 50 percent felt strong anxiety about not having enough food available for the coming weeks.

In terms of lifestyle changes, the three biggest increases at the shops were hygiene products (65 percent), household cleaning products (63 percent) and grains (57 percent) while only 40 percent said they were now buying more fresh fruit and vegetables.

While, as far as lifestyle activities go, there were sizeable increase in following news programming (75 percent), cooking at home (67 percent) and social media usage (60 percent). Seventy percent of persons have stopped using public transportation altogether while 27 percent abandoned online shopping and bill payments and 22 percent quit home improvement projects.

Photo: Photo: Respondents share their view on quarantine and border restrictions in the MFO’s Consumer Outlook Study on Covid-19.
(via MFO)

(MFO’s summary of its 2020 report)

To keep abreast of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, growing attention is placed upon news programming. This behaviour is to be expected with high levels of uncertainty in the community.

While international media is the top source for information on the outbreak, the public also places focus on local television channels, and government websites. Locally, government sources take precedence, with the Ministry of Health being considered the most trustworthy source.

Although there is an increase in the level of consumption of news, uncertainty regarding the facts surrounding the virus remains prevalent. Younger persons (18-24 years) are more likely to show skepticism toward the virus and seem to be less worried about its effects.

Despite this uncertainty, there is clarity on the need for physical distancing measures. This highlights the high level of trust placed in government’s messaging as it aligns with the emphasis placed on ‘stay at home’ measures.

The public acknowledges the gravity of the situation. A vast majority is largely avoiding the use of public transportation and taking precautions to prevent the entrance of Covid-19 into their homes. This is also reflected in purchasing behaviour as consumers buy more hygiene and cleaning products.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago national football captain David Nakhid delivers hampers in Mt D’or on 1 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Concerns about economic instability have come to the forefront as it is believed that the financial effects of the virus will be bigger than public health implications. With physical distancing measures in place, 7 in 10 persons report a decrease in earnings while almost half of persons suffer temporary job loss.

Despite the fear and concern for economic well-being, there is strong support for the closure of borders, schools and non-essential businesses. This exemplifies the overall population’s willingness to prioritise the mitigation of contact spread.

Support for government’s measures are further evidenced in high satisfaction and confidence scores. However, dissatisfaction is more likely to be exhibited by those suffering income loss, signalling the underlying tension caused by economic considerations.

Consumer behaviour has adapted to reflect the current challenges of a potential decrease in earnings and restriction of movement for the near future. With respect to virtual/online spaces, a large shift towards online entertainment is observed, while on the other hand, online shopping has experienced the lowest growth and largest decline. Online banking and bill payment patterns remain largely consistent, indicative of no major shifts.

The increased purchasing of non-perishable items, synonymous with disaster preparedness, further reflects the sentiment of uncertainty. As many prepare for ‘what if’ both physically and financially, emphasis is placed on the shelf-stable life of the products purchased.

Photo: A mother and daughter head home from the bakery in Penal.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

With the onset of Covid-19, a multitude of challenges have been presented to government, the business community and the general public. The upheaval of daily life has given rise to an atmosphere of uncertainty, which intensifies the need for trustworthy of information sources.

The novel coronavirus presents a communication challenge as the information rapidly evolves. Oftentimes, new developments render previously held beliefs inapplicable.

The results of the study show both the high level of trust in the government and attention paid to the messaging being put forward and national uncertainty. The satisfaction and confidence in the government’s actions further affirms public commitment to the collective interest of Trinidad and Tobago.

As the public’s knowledge strongly reflects the ubiquitous directive to practice physical distancing, it shows success in communication. However, communication disparities between age groups must not be ignored as younger persons appear to be less concerned with the virus’ effects and its implications for the future.

While authorities hold the public’s attention, there is an opportunity to not only introduce new messages but tailor them to the various segments within society.

Photo: (From left) Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, National Security Minister Stuart Young and Communications Minister Donna Cox.

Even in the uncertain situation, it should also be noted that the proportion of those expressing optimism remains relatively the same as in previous years. This is supported by the confidence and satisfaction with government measures and the levels of personal responsibility taken to stop the virus’ spread.

The economic concerns, however, have the potential to erode these sentiments of optimism depending on the duration of the effects of the pandemic. While persons may now display patience, financial concerns can lead to future instability.

As seen in the group of those suffering job loss and the correlation with expressed negative sentiments towards government’s actions, should the effects be prolonged or deepen, it would threaten the current ratings.

These changes call for both policy makers and businesses to strive to provide value in all aspects. Many move online for entertainment, however, online bill payment and banking transaction behaviours remain largely as before. This opportunity can be filled by encouraging more persons to use digital platforms.

This transition may be particularly successful during a period where the benefits will facilitate staying safe and saving time. As consumers shop for non-perishables, it highlights the need for constant supply chains of shelf-stable products.

Businesses must streamline their processes while offering the same quality and brands of products. In doing so, it brings an aspect of certainty in an atmosphere of apprehension.

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