community outbreak

Despite the advice of governments and health officials, most unwell Aussies with cold and flu-like symptoms are not getting tested for COVID-19, Monash University’s research enterprise BehaviourWorks Australia has found.

The latest results from the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) project, released today, examined ongoing personal protective behaviours, the COVIDSafe app and how Australians (including unwell Aussies) felt about returning to their workplaces.

BehaviourWorks Australia, part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, is leading the Australian chapter of SCRUB in partnership with the Victorian Government.

This data, collected between early and mid-June, forms wave 4 and provides policymakers with actionable insights into public attitudes and behaviours relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the respondents in wave 4, six per cent reported they had cold and flu-like symptoms in the past week, but only a third of those got tested for COVID-19.

Of those that were unwell, 46 per cent attended work in person, and only a quarter stayed home altogether.

And of those that were unwell and did get tested, seven per cent didn’t stay home and await the results of the test, as per the Government’s advice.

Wave 4 of SCRUB also revealed what was worrying Australians in June, with an economic recession the leading concern, alongside small businesses failing and themselves becoming unemployed.

Only a third were concerned they would be infected with COVID-19.

In regards to personal protective behaviours such as regular hand washing or maintaining physical distance, Australians reported they were still complying with these at a high level.

With Australian states and territories easing restrictions, the majority of respondents (78 per cent) reported having social contact with friends or family, with just under half stating they maintained physical distance and avoided touching or hugging whilst together.

Respondents were also asked about returning to work in person with just 39 per cent of respondents stating they were working in person exclusively (e.g., with other employees at an office).

The biggest factor (45 per cent) keeping people working at home was that their employer had requested it, alongside it being seen as less risky (35 per cent).

The majority of workers surveyed reported a preference for having hand sanitiser in all common areas, more frequent or intensive cleaning and increasing distance between workspaces to make them feel more comfortable about going back to work.

Forty-four per cent of respondents said common use of the COVIDSafe app would also encourage them to go back to work, but just over half reported they sometimes, rarely or never use it.

Lead researcher Dr Peter Slattery said a key – and telling – finding from this wave of SCRUB was that people who experienced cold or flu-like symptoms weren’t getting tested for COVID-19.

“In order to ensure we get on top of this pandemic, we need to continue to increase awareness of and access to free testing stations,” he said. “We also need to normalise and reduce the stigma behind testing.

“There have been reports that it is a long wait to get a test and we don’t want to deter people from doing the right thing. It is so worthwhile and crucial to our sustained success in managing this disease.”

In light of these unwell Aussies not doing the right thing, Dr Slattery said another key insight for policymakers was around reinforcing the importance of physical distancing from friends and family at gatherings, particularly with the Victorian Government attributing recent increases in case numbers to families gathering.

“Reiterating that most Australians are doing the right thing, and that this is normal for now, could be effective,” he said. “We also need to start planning for the next stage and encourage workplaces that have the means to start bringing people back into work, to do so in the right way.

“Plan for the future, plan for increased cleaning, hand sanitisers and hygiene stations.”

(Dr Slattery works alongside project lead Dr Alexander Saeri and co-researcher Emily Grundy from BehaviourWorks and Dr Michael Noetel from Australian Catholic University.) 


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