Australians adapting to ‘new normal’ by shifting transport use and favouring face masks

Australians are changing their use of transport and are in favour of face masks to minimise risks to coronavirus (COVID-19) exposure as they begin to return to outside of the home activities, the latest Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey shows.

Led by researchers from the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne, the weekly survey tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians. The 12th wave of the survey was conducted from 22-26 June.

Recent results reveal individuals are shifting away from public transport. Use of all forms of public transport, including trains, buses, taxis and ride share services, has declined compared to pre-COVID-19. Car use has also decreased slightly and there has been an increase in walking and cycling.

Researchers found those with dependent children are almost twice as likely to use their cars more than those without children.

As social and economic interactions increase and Victoria deals with a surge in new COVID-19 cases, discussions have turned to the practice of wearing masks to mitigate the emergence of a second wave of coronavirus infections.

The survey shows people increasingly believe face masks should be worn in public. Respondents supporting the use of masks on public transport and in cinemas and theatres rose from 58 per cent to 61 per cent, between waves 10 and 12.

Wearing masks in the workplace is also gaining traction, with the proportion favouring this practice rising from 41 per cent to 44 per cent. In supermarkets and shopping centres, the figure has risen from 45 per cent to 48 per cent.

Protective individual behavioural changes, like physical distancing and mask wearing, must be a priority as restrictions ease in Australia and we wait for vaccine, wrote Melbourne Institute Professor Ragan Petrie in a Research Insight also published this week.

“As Australians consider how to move on with their lives, go back to work, take their children to school, go shopping or to a restaurant, it is important to emphasise the importance of not only protective individual changes but government support,” Professor Petrie said.

“Not all Australians can avoid public transport or drive a personal car. Many endure long commutes where they can be exposed to potential infection in close quarters. Government requirement of mask wearing and enforcing physical distancing in venues might make the path back to activities safer.”

There were no major changes in sentiment in this week’s survey towards government policies, mental distress and financial stress. Researchers say this might indicate the transition to economic recovery is stabilising.

Interact with the results of the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey on our tracker page.

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*The weekly survey by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne contains responses from 1200 people aged 18 years and over, with the sample stratified by gender, age and location to represent the Australian population