‘It’s Important to Remain Calm and Rational’: Latvian and Lithuanian Views on COVID-19
Latvians are most concerned about the uncertainty regarding how COVID-19 could develop over the next months, the likelihood of themselves or family members getting ill, as well as the impact the pandemic could have on the economy, both in Latvia and globally. These are some of the conclusions drawn from a survey initiated by the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas that was implemented by researchers from the Faculty of Communication at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). In order to learn about the public opinion on COVID-19, researchers conducted a survey in April that almost 3,500 people participated in online. Most respondents believe that they could contract COVID-19, but are knowledgeable about how to protect themselves.
Latvian researchers conducted the survey from 9 to 20 April receiving 3,483 completed questionnaires from mostly urban, well-educated internet users of different ages. Both Latvian-speaking and Russian-speaking residents were surveyed.
Respondents are most concerned about the uncertainty regarding how the virus might spread and develop in general and fear falling ill themselves, or their family members getting infected. They are also concerned about the impact on the Latvian and global economy. Respondents' reported their concers as "medium high" regarding the introduction of the state of emergency in Latvia, the emergence of the first patients, the pandemic being declared, as well as public and medical institutions not being ready to fight the virus. Respondents are less concerned about the availability of food in shops, educational institutions closing and state borders closing. 80% of respondents believe that the risk of them personally, or of family members contracting COVID-19 is low, but likely; 38% believe that it is likely; 11% consider the risk to be high; 9% believe that the risk is low. When characterising their mood, 84% of respondents selected the answer “of course I am concerned, but the main thing is to remain calm and keep a rational outlook on life”, 13% state that they feel completely safe, “because this is just another virus; there are worse things going on in the world”; 3% admit that they are panicking, because “nothing in the world is certain”.
The majority of respondents show good knowledge of which social groups are at risk, the ways in which the virus can be transmitted, symptoms, as well as recommended preventive measures. Respondents’ thoughts differed when it came to the use of masks and whether they protect wearers and others from the virus – one fifth of respondents believed it necessary to wear a mask, but almost half of respondents don't know whether this is necessary, as well as believing that face masks do not help protect against the virus. These results most probably reflect the contradictory information about the use of face masks that has been released publicly.
When evaluating the risk of contracting the disease, respondents are concerned with people coughing or sneezing without covering their mouths. Most respondents recognise that they try to wash their hands every time they come in contact with other people, for example when they handle objects or money in shops. Many respondents also emphasise that they would not want to use a pencil with teeth marks. A part of respondents would not drink water from a friend’s water bottle, and a third disapprove of wearing second-hand clothing.
More than half of respondents disagree with the statement “if everyone has a disease, I will contract it too”. Respondents link the assessment of their risk of contracting the disease to their previous experience with infectious diseases: if people have been sick with an infectious diseases before, they are likelier to assume that they will contract it this time as well. If a respondent stated that they had not had an infectious diseases prior, they were more likely to agree with the statement “my previous experience makes me think that I will not contract the disease even if my friends are ill”.
Regarding the reliability of sources, respondents valued the information provided by medical practitioners, governmental institutions and international institutions most highly. Information about COVID-19 that they got from friends, relatives, colleagues and politicians was for the most part evaluated as either "partially reliable", or "unreliable". Respondents relied the least on information provided by celebrities and influencers – two thirds of respondents considered them unreliable sources of information; 7% – partially reliable, or reliable adding comments that they mostly follow medical practitioners and scientists on social media, and therefore trust their opinions. Most respondents most trust information about COVID-19 provided on television and the radio, while information on news sites and in newspapers is more often evaluated as partially reliable – up to 60% of respondents trust it. 42% of respondents trust or partially trust information on social networking platforms.
The initial results have been gathered from Latvia and Lithuania and an extensive analysis will follow. Inesa Bunevičiene is an Associate Professor of the Faculty of Public Communication at the Vytautas Magnus University and the initiator of the survey. She recognises that respondents in Lithuania trust medical practitioners and governmental institutions equally. Moreover, respondents who rely on information provided by governmental institutions most often have indicated a comparatively lower level of fear of COVID-19.
Demographics of Latvian respondents
|40% – higher education|
16% – studying, or unfinished higher education
26% – secondary education
5% – unfinished secondary education
13% – other education
72 % – live in cities
|62% – employed at time of survey|
14% – retired
9% – unemployed
8% – students
7% – other occupation
|44% – 41-60 years|
23% – 26-40 years
22% – 61 and older
11% – 18-25 years
|48% – good health|
37% – moderately good health
6% – bad health
5% – perfect health
1% – very bad health
4% – no answer
If respondents felt disease symptoms, more than half (53%) would call their family doctor, 33% would stay at home and treat themselves, 8% would call the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s informative hotline.