Most People Say Their Country Limited Freedoms Too Much During the Pandemic

You may recall that, at the start of the pandemic, surveys found remarkably high levels of support for lockdown. In a poll from March of 2020, for example, 93% of Brits supported the Government’s Covid measures; only 4% were opposed.

High levels of pro-lockdown sentiment continued into the second year of the pandemic. A poll taken in July of 2021 – so after months of lockdown and the vaccine rollout – found that one third of Brits would support permanent social distancing, and 45% would support permanent vaccine travel requirements.

As I’ve noted before, one reason why public support for lockdown was so high – in Britain and elsewhere – is that people overestimated the risks of Covid. As George Davey Smith and David Spiegelhalter wrote in the BMJ, adopting targeted approaches would “require a shift away from the notion that we are all seriously threatened by the disease, which has led to levels of personal fear being strikingly mismatched to objective risk of death”.

In a poll from December of 2020, 28% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats said the chance of being hospitalised if you catch Covid is 50%. (The correct answer at the time was less than 5%.) The poll was then repeated a whole year later, and the number of Democrats who believed there’s a 50% chance of being hospitalised if you catch Covid hadn’t budged – it was still 41%!

That’s the bad news. What’s the good news? Well, a major global survey has found that most people on earth believe their country limited freedoms too much during the pandemic. The Democracy Perceptions Index surveyed 52,000 people in 53 countries – comprising 75% of the world’s population. Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed that “their government has gone too far in limiting people’s freedoms”.

As the chart below indicates, there was net agreement with the statement in 50 out of 53 countries; the exceptions being Taiwan, Sweden and China. And the Swedish result can obviously be explained by the fact that Sweden limited people’s freedoms much less than most other Western countries.

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