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The number of adults indicating extreme levels of concern about exposure to COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) has more than doubled in the past few weeks, according to new Mintel research tracking changes in consumer sentiment and behaviour related to the virus. 

Towards the beginning of March (28th Feb -13th March), just 14% of all British adults were extremely concerned about the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. But this figure surged to 31% at the end of March (20th March – 25th March), while just 5% of Brits now say that they are not at all worried, down from 15%.

Older men finally get the message

Previously exhibiting minimal concern about COVID-19 exposure, Mintel research reveals that the message is now finally getting through to older men. Between 28 February – 13 March, only 6% of men aged 65+ were extremely worried about exposure to the virus, but this figure soared to 31% when asked again between 20th March – 25th March.

Overall, women have consistently been among the most likely to exhibit extreme concern about exposure to the virus, with this also increasing across the two periods: 44% of females aged 65+ are now extremely worried about exposure, up from 13% between 28 February – 13 March. 

Having previously been among the least likely to be worried about exposure to the coronavirus, the proportion of over-65s extremely concerned about contact with the virus nearly quadrupled over the course of two weeks (38% between 20th March – 25th March, up from 10% between 28 February -13 March). 

Jack Duckett, Associate Director of Consumer Lifestyles Research at Mintel, said: 

“The UK has seen a surge in the number of recorded COVID-19 cases and deaths in a very short span of time, making the severity of this situation unavoidable. It comes as little surprise, therefore, to see the sharp increase in consumer anxiety about the virus and its lifestyle implications. 

“Most notable has been the rise in concern amongst older adults, and in particular, older men – a group that has previously been among the least engaged with their health and wellbeing. For this group, there is no escaping that they are highly vulnerable to this virus, not only due to their age but because there is a higher incidence of chronic underlying health conditions. 

“This pandemic will result in consumers putting more emphasis on health and wellbeing in the years to come, and, hopefully, that focus will be seen across all age groups.”

Over a third of Brits extremely concerned about the outbreak’s impact on their lifestyles

Mintel research also shows more people are extremely concerned about what the outbreak could mean for their lifestyles. Between 28 February – 13 March, just 14% of Brits said they were extremely concerned about the extent to which the outbreak might affect their lifestyle. By 20th March – 25th March, this had increased to 36%.

“Despite the challenges of the lockdown and the social distancing measures introduced by the Government, Brits are generally very resilient. While levels of strain are, undoubtedly, heightened, people are finding ever-more creative ways of keeping connected and their stress levels in check. Because of this, we’re seeing a surge in popularity of digital platforms, such as Houseparty and Zoom, which allow people to connect and socialise with each other wherever they are – whether that’s having dinner, drinking or playing games together. Meanwhile, Brits of all ages are learning new dance moves in order to post videos on TikTok.” Jack adds. 

Most Brits have increased handwashing

Adhering to Public Health England’s advice, between 20th March- 25th March, almost four in five (77%) Brits said they were washing their hands more often as a result of the outbreak.

And while hand sanitisers may be hard to track down, as of the end of March, almost half (47%) of Brits said they were using hand sanitiser more often as a result of the virus. Cleaning their way through the pandemic, just under two in five (37%) of Brits have increased their use of disinfectants or other household cleaning products.

Meanwhile, just over a third (35%) of Brits have changed their holiday plans; while just over three in 10 (32%) have stocked up on groceries or other supplies and 17% have increased the amount of shopping they do online.

The much-debated face mask has been worn by 7% of Brits, increasing to 18% of Londoners. Overall, less than one in 10 (7%) consumers hasn’t made any changes at all.

“While face masks have become a global symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality in the UK is that very few adults have started using them. Instead, images of empty store shelves have become the prevalent theme of coverage of COVID-19, dominating discussion in the press and social media. This has eased in the last two weeks, as supermarkets have introduced measures to prevent overbuying. 

“There’s been an increase in online buying – an activity that is particularly crucial for those isolating due to the virus. As we’ve seen in China, this is a change that could prove lasting after the outbreak slows. Those new to the online shopping experience – or those who increase their usage – during the outbreak may feel more confident using ecommerce platforms and enjoying its convenience.” Jack concludes.