COVID-19 attitudes and precautions

32% of adults

with disability felt overwhelmed because of COVID-19 (26% without disability)

29% of adults

with disability relied on their GP as a source of information about COVID-19 (21% without disability)

49% of adults

with disability said they would definitely get a COVID-19 test for mild symptoms (at June 2021)

Introduction

The spread of COVID-19 produced a strong demand for information and resulted in creation of an extensive array of information resources. This included information about symptoms, recommended precautions against the virus, mandatory locally imposed restrictions to combat the spread of the virus, and availability of health and other services, including services to test for COVID-19. Technological advances and the rise of social media meant the information could be made available widely and quickly, but at the same time created a COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ characterised by overabundance of information and, in some cases, misinformation (WHO 2020).

This section looks at information needs and sources used by Australians with and without disability during the first year of COVID-19, precautions taken due to COVID-19, and attitudes to COVID-19 testing. The data in this section are drawn from the ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey as well as the Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) COVID-19 survey.

CYDA COVID-19 survey

Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), a national representative organisation for children and young people (aged 0–25) with disability, ran an online survey between 16 March and 23 April 2020 about the experiences of children and young people with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was promoted among CYDA members (more than 5,000 people) and via social media by other disability advocacy organisations. Respondents self-selected to participate.

Of 697 people who responded to the survey:

  • 93% were a family member of a child or young person with disability, 6% were a person with disability aged over 25, 4% were a young person with disability, 3% were 'other’ (for example, speech pathologist) (respondents could belong to more than one category)
  • The majority of responses were for young people aged 7–18
  • 43% of the young people were enrolled in a mainstream school, 30% in a special school
  • 95% of the young people lived at home with family
  • Almost 9 in 10 (88%) had a current NDIS plan (Dickinson and Yates 2020).

Needs for health information and support in the early stages of the pandemic

The CYDA COVID-19 survey conducted in the early months of the pandemic found that many children and young people with disability and their families and carers experienced a lack of information about COVID-19 and related supports, with 82% of respondents saying there was not enough information about COVID-19 (Dickinson and Yates 2020). Particular information and support people with disability and their families needed about COVID-19 related to:

  • health information and support (named by 43% of respondents)
  • support for buying essential items (named by 34% of respondents)
  • NDIS information and supports (31% of respondents)
  • education information and supports (29% of respondents)
  • mental health information and supports (23% of respondents)
  • employment information and supports (12% of respondents) (Dickinson and Yates 2020).

Free-text responses also emphasised that people needed more targeted information on the effects of COVID-19 on specific conditions.


Attitudes towards COVID-19

In December 2020, the Household Impacts of COVID-19 survey asked Australians aged 18 and over about their attitudes towards COVID-19. In the week prior to the survey adults with disability were:

  • more likely than adults without disability to think about COVID-19 at least once a day (61% for adults with disability compared with 49% for those without)
  • as likely as adults without disability to actively seek information about COVID-19 at least once a day (22% and 19%)
  • more likely than adults without disability to have felt overwhelmed because of COVID-19 (32% compared with 26%) (ABS 2020b).

Many people reported that these behaviours had occurred less frequently in the previous week than 6 months ago (or June 2020), but this was less often the case for people with disability:

  • thinking about COVID-19 (50% of adults with disability said they were doing this less frequently than 6 months ago, compared with 59% of adults without disability)
  • actively seeking information about COVID-19 (52% and 61%)
  • feeling overwhelmed because of COVID-19 (50% and 59%) (ABS 2020b).

Sources of COVID-19 health information

In March 2021, the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey asked about the sources of health information related to COVID-19 that people used. Noting that more than one main source could be reported, the main sources used by adults with and without disability were similar:

  • Australian news sources (72% and 71%, respectively)
  • government health information sources (47% and 57%, respectively) (ABS 2021c).

People with disability were:

  • more likely than those without disability to have used a GP or other health professionals as one of the main sources of COVID-19 health information (29% compared with 21%)
  • less likely than those without disability to use social media as their source of information (23% compared with 34%) (ABS 2021c).

Precautions taken due to COVID-19

The CYDA COVID-19 survey found that, in March–April 2020, many children and young people with disability and their families were self-isolating:

  • 43% voluntarily self-isolated from school or education
  • 30% were required to self-isolate because of child or young person with immune or other medical conditions
  • 13% were required to self-isolate because of health information (such as experiencing symptoms or having been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case) (Dickinson and Yates 2020).

In November 2020, and January, March and June 2021, the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey asked about precautions taken during the previous week because of COVID-19. As could be expected, proportions of people following different types of precautions varied in line with the changing COVID-19 situation and public health advice at the time.

In June 2021, most adults with and without disability took one or more precautions due to COVID-19 (93% and 91%) (ABS 2021f). This was similar to reports in previous months (ABS 2020a, 2021a, 2021c).

Between November 2020 and June 2021, the most common precautions were similar for adults with and without disability and included (Figure COVID.7):

  • regularly washing hands or using hand sanitiser (87% of adults with disability and 84% of adults without disability in June 2021)
  • keeping physical distance (69% and 61% in June 2021)
  • staying at home (43% and 41% in June 2021)
  • disinfecting surfaces before using them (46% and 42% in June 2021)
  • wearing a face mask (43% and 44% in June 2021) (ABS 2021f). ​

Figure COVID.7: Precautions taken by adults during the last week due to COVID-19, by disability status, November 2020, January 2021, March 2021 and June 2021

Clustered bar chart showing the most common precautions due to COVID-19 taken by adults with and without disability between November 2020 and June 2021. The reader can select to display the chart by month, for November 2020, January 2021, March 2021, or June 2021. The chart shows the most common precaution for people with and without disability was hand hygiene (93% for both groups in November 2020). However, the use of precautions has declined from November 2020 to June 2021; in June 2021, hand hygiene was reported by 87% of adults with disability and 84% of adults without disability.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data tables: COVID-19 (XLSX, 314 kB)

Compared with November 2020, in June 2021 adults with and without disability were less likely to report:

  • washing hands or using hand sanitiser regularly
  • keeping physical distance from people
  • disinfecting surfaces before using them (ABS 2020a, 2021f).

Comparing each of the survey periods, people both with and without disability were most likely to report reporting wearing a face mask in January 2021 (61% and 65%) (ABS 2021a).

Following COVID-19 state and territory recommendations and restrictions

In December 2020, when asked about their understanding of their state or territory’s recommendations and restrictions, more than 4 in 5 adults (82% of adults with disability and 85% of adults without disability) rated their understanding as very good (47% and 45%) or good (35% and 40%) (ABS 2020b).

Most people with and without disability reported following their state or territory’s recommendations and restrictions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (95% for both groups):

  • People with disability (35%) were more likely than people without disability (26%) to report following the recommendations and restrictions exactly.
  • The majority of people with disability (72%) and without disability (81%) felt that other people were following their state or territory’s recommendations and restrictions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (ABS 2020b).

Use of public transport during COVID-19

In March 2020 (before the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions), people with disability were less likely to regularly use public transport than people without disability (Figure COVID.8):

  • About 12% of adults with disability used public transport once a week or more often, compared with 27% of those without disability.
  • About 8 in 10 (79%) adults with disability used public transport several times a year or less often, compared with 65% of those without disability (ABS 2021c).

Figure COVID.8: Use of public transport by adults before and after COVID-19 restrictions, by disability status and month, 2020-2021.

Column chart showing the use of public transport by adults with and without disability between March 2020 and June 2021. The reader can select to display the chart by month, for March 2020, December 2020, March 2021, or June 2021. The chart shows that regular use of public transport (once a week or more often) by adults with disability declined from 12% in March 2020 to 7.9% in June 2021. For those without disability, regular use of public transport fell from 27% in March 2020 to 14% in June 2021.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data tables: COVID-19 (XLSX, 314 kB)

Regular use of public transport in general declined during the pandemic, but for people with disability the use of public transport remained broadly unchanged (Figure COVID.8):

  • For adults with disability, proportions reporting regular use of public transport remained similar to the March 2020 level in December 2020 and March 2021 (10% both months) and in June 2021 (8%).
  • For adults without disability, proportions reporting regular use of public transport fell from 27% in March 2020 to 14% in June 2021 (ABS 2020b, 2021c, 2021f).

People with disability were more likely to report feeling uncomfortable using public transport than people without disability, both before and during COVID-19 restrictions:

  • Before COVID-19 restrictions (March 2020), 23% of adults with disability and 14% of adults without disability reported feeling uncomfortable or very uncomfortable using public transport.
  • In March 2021, 45% of adults with disability and 36% of adults without disability reported feeling uncomfortable or very uncomfortable using public transport.
  • Similar results were reported for taxis and ride share services (ABS 2021c).

The 3 main actions that people with or without disability felt would help them be more comfortable using public transport, taxi or ride share services were:

  • people understanding, and visibly following, COVID-safe practices (such as wearing face masks, social distancing and sanitising hands) (27% and 34%, respectively)
  • widespread uptake of a vaccine (13% and 16%, respectively)
  • having received a vaccine (12% and 9.6%, respectively) (ABS 2021c).

Travel intentions

In May 2021 (when travel within states and territories and, for the most part, travel between states and territories was open and encouraged), adults with disability were:

  • less likely than those without disability to intend to travel to see family or friends, for holidays or for recreation between June and August 2021 (33% compared with 42%) (ABS 2021e).

Of those who did not intend to travel or were not sure:

  • adults with disability were less likely than those without disability to say they wanted to travel (58% compared with 69%)
  • the most common reasons to not intend to travel were
    • cannot afford to travel (28% for adults with disability and 21% for adults without disability)
    • no reason to travel or nowhere they wanted to go (26% and 29%)
    • COVID-19 travel restrictions would make it too difficult or impossible to travel (25% and 31%)
    • concerns about the risks of COVID-19 or COVID-19 outbreaks (24% and 26%) (ABS 2021e).

Attitudes to COVID-19 testing

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of other respiratory infections, such as influenza or common cold (Department of Health 2020). The public health advice on whether people should get tested for COVID-19 if they had symptoms of a respiratory infection (such as a sore throat, cough, fever, or aches and pains) varied throughout the pandemic. During the initial stages of the pandemic, eligibility for COVID-19 testing was determined by a GP or medical professional (Department of Social Services 2020a). However, from mid-2020 the public health advice consistently recommended to test for COVID-19 for any symptoms of a respiratory infection, even if the symptoms were mild (Department of Social Services 2020b).

In June 2021, less than half of adults said they would definitely get a COVID-19 test if they had mild symptoms of a respiratory infection:

  • 49% of adults with disability reported they would definitely get tested for mild symptoms (similar to those without disability, 44%)
  • 35% of adults with disability said they would probably or possibly get tested (42% without disability)
  • 16% of adults with disability and 14% of adults without disability said they would probably or definitely not get tested for mild symptoms (ABS 2021f).

These reports were similar to earlier reports in December 2020, and February and April 2021 (ABS 2020b, 2021b, 2021d).

Excluding the people who said they would definitely get a COVID-19 test for mild symptoms, the most common reasons not to get tested were similar for people with and without disability:

  • symptoms unrelated to COVID-19 (59% for adults with disability and 61% for adults without disability in June 2021)
  • few or no cases of COVID-19 where the respondents lived, or they were not in a ‘hot spot’ (46% and 52%)
  • symptoms not serious enough (42% and 44%)
  • not having been in contact with anyone who had COVID-19 symptoms (37% and 38%) (ABS 2021f).

This was similar to reports in December 2020, and February and April 2021 (ABS 2020b, 2021b, 2021d).

In June 2021, of those who said they may not get a COVID-19 test for mild symptoms, adults with disability (62%) and those without disability (66%) were similarly likely to report that they would definitely get a COVID-19 test if they had severe symptoms of a respiratory infection (ABS 2021f).


Life after COVID-19 restrictions

In June 2021, the Household Impacts of COVID-19 survey asked Australians aged 18 and over when they would expect life to return to normal. In general, people with disability were less optimistic about life returning to normal sooner than people without disability:

  • people with disability were less likely to expect that life would return to normal within a year than those without disability (20% for adults with disability compared with 27% for adults without disability)
  • people with disability were more likely to say that life would never return to normal (20% compared with 14%)
  • about 1 in 6 people (15% of adults with disability and 18% of those without disability) said that life had already returned to normal (ABS 2021f).

There were certain aspects of life under COVID-19 restrictions which people wanted to continue in the future. Among the most common aspects (named by at least 1 in 5 people with disability), some were similar for people with and without disability, including:

  • spending more time with family and friends (27% for adults with disability and 34% for adults without disability)
  • slower pace of life (23% and 28%)
  • taking more domestic holidays (22% and 29%)
  • less environmental impact (22% and 26%) (ABS 2021f).

Others were less likely to be named by people with disability, including:

  • spending less/saving more (22% for adults with disability and 31% for adults without disability)
  • working from home (19% and 37%) (ABS 2021f).

People with disability were more likely than people without disability to say they wanted none of the selected aspects of life under COVID-19 restrictions to continue (24% compared with 15%) (ABS 2021f).

Where can I find out more?

Data tables for this report.

ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey.