New Year’s Eve parties in small groups or canceled, dispersed and isolated families, self-containment, local, partial or generalized confinements, curfews, travel restrictions, border closures, uncertainties about the reopening of certain sectors: France, like many other countries around the world, has faced a series of restrictions in an attempt to stem the epidemic.
While each type of measure / restriction has its own effectiveness in controlling epidemiological dynamics, these must also be evaluated according to their acceptability by the population.
At a time when decision-makers are asking themselves the question of reassess restrictive measures to avoid a rebound of the epidemic, the preferences of the populations should count in the public decision. In particular after long months of efforts, then the implementation of new measures these last weeks in many European countries.
Our behavioral economics research team quantified the degree of resistance or acceptability of a population to various strategies to fight the Covid-19 epidemic. Our results led to the publication of an article in the international scientific journal The Lancet Public Health.
The results of the study show that mask wearing, transport limitations and digital tracking are relatively well accepted.
In contrast, restaurant and recreation closures, as well as excessive restrictions on leisure travel, are much less so. The analyzes of subgroups of the population (clinical vulnerability, age groups, sex) also show that the acceptability of certain strategies depends on personal characteristics.
In particular, the young population differs quite strongly from the others, in terms of anti-Covid-19 policy preferences and demands for monetary compensation, suggesting the need for an adapted “menu” of anti-Covid-19 policies, based on distinct attitudes.
Assess the preferences of the population
The study uses a method of revealing preferences, the “Discrete Choice Experiment», Making it possible to assess the preferences of the population on various combinations of public policies for controlling Covid-19 epidemics.
Between May 4 and 16, 2020, at the end of the first confinement in France, our team carried out an internet survey on a representative sample of the French population.
One of the objectives of the investigation was to assess the acceptance of the restriction measures among the main anti-Covid strategies discussed by the French government at the beginning of April for the period following the confinement.
The graph below gives a ranking of preferences for the whole population and for certain subgroups, defined according to their clinical vulnerability, age or sex.
A necessary evil
Masks, restrictions on public transport and digital tracking (via an application optional for mobile phone) were considered acceptable by the general population, provided that the restrictions on each of these dimensions remain reasonable. Thus, the wearing of a mask is much less accepted when the mention “everywhere” is associated with it.
Conversely, additional weeks of confinement, the closure of restaurants and bars, and excessive restriction of leisure travel (less than 100 km) were not deemed acceptable.
Overall, these results indicate that the French population accepted the restrictive measures that followed the first confinement relatively well, living them certainly as constraints, but also as a “necessary evil”, to be put in perspective with the risk. additional confinement, an eventuality that was viewed very negatively.
The rejection for additional weeks of confinement was more than proportional: the longer the duration of additional confinement, the greater the intensity with which it is rejected.
Vulnerable people more tolerant
Compared to the general population, clinically vulnerable people, i.e. those who report suffering from a chronic disease, showed better tolerance to confinement, greater acceptance of wearing a mask and less rejecting closures of restaurants and bars. However, these differences were small, indicating either a form of altruism on the part of the non-vulnerable towards the vulnerable, or a weak singularity of the vulnerable people in their attitudes towards risk.
Young people (18-24) were the most dissonant group, perhaps because they are less concerned with health risks than older groups (although the medical risk is not zero for young people, and remains important for the elders with whom they are in contact).
In our survey, we proposed, among the various attributes, financial compensation to offset the weight of restriction policies. Our analyzes showed that young people were clearly in favor of this proposal, unlike other segments of the population who clearly rejected it. From this result, we can deduce that financial incentives could be an effective instrument when they are targeted at young people, and that they are likely to push young people to better accept the options of binding anti-Covid policies.
This solution would amount to applying a compensation mechanism such as a transfer to La Pigou, already applied in other fields of public economy. According to Arthur Pigou, English economist of the early twentiethe century, the principles of the “welfare economy” can lead to taxing – or compensating – individuals who exert negative – or positive – external effects, so as to bring them back to behaviors that are more optimal for society.
Thus, knowing how people in a population classify the different prophylactic measures linked to Covid-19 is a prerequisite for designing appropriate programs and measures, a challenge that many countries in the northern hemisphere face every day. until a vaccine becomes widely available.
Our survey therefore highlights the need for anti-Covid policies that are closer to people’s sensibilities. It suggests ways, in particular through compensation for young people, to allow better acceptability of control policies, taking into account the preferences of different segments of the population, and to prevent some of them refusing to join. to measures, then spreading the risk of epidemics throughout society.
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