Aug 05, 2021

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Israelis – and probably citizens of many other countries around the world – prefer carrots to sticks: Threats of monetary fines, forced hospitalization and forced isolation of Israelis during the height of the Corona crisis did not change Israelis’ behavior, according to preliminary results of an Israeli survey led by researchers from the Hebrew University (HU)  and Tel Aviv University (TAU). 

Their representative poll of 1,523 Israelis is part of an international study asking the same questions in some 50 other countries to assess public perceptions around the world after the Corona crisis. So far, 35,000 people in the rest of the world have participated. 

Prof. Hagai Levine from the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (who is also chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Doctors) and Prof. Anat Seidman-Zeit in the the department of school counseling and special education at TAU’s Constantiner School of Education are conducting the survey to examine public perceptions and responses to the government’s steps for coping with the pandemic. 

About one-fifth of Israeli respondents have said so far that they thought the measures were too severe, and many were dissatisfied with the government’s threats of detention and forced hospitalization. 

The survey was divided into two stages: The first wave was designed to assess the public’s perceptions, concerns and responses to the various measures adopted to prevent or reduce the spread of the corona virus. The second wave of the questionnaire was aimed at assessing how the Corona virus has affected various aspects of people’s lives, which have been greatly altered by the pandemic. 

The Hebrew-language questionnaire contained six main topics and dozens of personal questions about the Corona crisis period, such as what were the sources on which the subjects relied on the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and how frightened they were to touch objects in public and take deliveries for fear of contracting the virus. In addition, questions emerged about the actions taken by the government and the local health authority to prevent and/or reduce the spread of COVID-19 and how difficult it was to work from home during the closure period. 

The participants were told that all collected data was stored securely on a server at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada that is collecting results with the University of Concordia in Canada that are being collected by over 130 academicians from around the world. 

Among the Israeli respondents, 86% stated that the measures taken by the government were very important in stopping the expansion, while 67% thought the measures were suitable for the dangerous situation, while 18% believed that many of the measures were too severe. 

Of the survey participants from other countries so far, only 6% on average felt that the measures were too strict, that is – thus three times as many Israelis felt that way. Most respondents in Israel and in other countries said they were more worried about family members who don’t live with them would be infected with the virus than that they themselves would be infected. 

The factors that were reported to be most influential in whether Israelis followed the government guidelines on physical isolation were information on how the virus spread, how each person’s actions would help slow down the spread of the virus and how they saved lives. In contrast, threats of fines, detention or forced hospitalization of those who had been exposed or putting the entire population in closure – which were presented by the prime minister and Health Ministry officials almost every night on TV had the lowest impact. 

Levine explained that “understanding the factors that motivate the public to implement health behavior, such as physical isolation, is essential at all stages of the pandemic. Intimidation is not the best tool for motivating the public to take action, and it is best to give the public information, examples and practical recommendations on how to protect his or her life and health.”

As a second wave of the virus is possible in the coming months, he continued, it is crucial to learn the lessons of the past for improving communication with the public and encouraging them to adopt proper health behavior.”

Seidman-Zeit concluded that “the more people who fill out the survey, the more we can learn how to help the public better cope with the effects of the Corona virus.”