Cigna’s International Markets business published the fifth edition of its COVID-19 Global Impact Study, which highlights the contrast in well-being around the world as vaccine roll-out commenced for some, while other markets anticipated vaccine approvals to come. With the COVID-19 pandemic continually evolving and new waves and variants emerging in different geographies, these latest results show the initial impact of vaccine availability, and highlight a growing nostalgia for the normalcies of pre-pandemic way of life.
Building on the previous wave of results from October, which saw many markets reach record lows, this latest study was conducted in late November and early December 2020, and gauged global attitudes to five health indices – family, financial, physical, social and work. The study’s timing coincided with one vaccine already being administered in UAE, following emergency approval in September and at a time when the first, highly anticipated approval for a vaccine was imminent in the U.K.
Thailand fell by 1.4 points, amid its largest single outbreak, as well as Spain and Hong Kong, which saw continued record lows as pandemic-associated stay-at-home orders continued. However, a different picture emerged in markets where the vaccine deployment had commenced, or approval was imminent. The UAE and U.K. saw increases of 1.8 and 1.6 points, respectively. These increases were only surpassed in New Zealand and Taiwan, where COVID-19 restrictions were considered successful and had been almost entirely lifted, with overall scores improving by 2.7 and 2.5 points, respectively.
Jason Sadler, President, Cigna International Markets said: “We predicted that vaccine availability would have a direct impact on people’s physical well-being as they received the immunization, but we are also seeing a broader positive impact for whole health. As global vaccine distribution moves forward and the rollout continues, it will be increasingly critical that all parties involved help to manage the expectations of their citizens, especially those not in priority groups, to help ensure a continued focus on our populations’ well-being.”
The desire for pre-pandemic normalcy is also seen in people’s preferences for remote vs. office working. In mid- 2020, at the end of the first waves of the pandemic in most markets, the data reflects an overwhelming preference for remote working globally, as people enjoyed the flexibility and family time it offered. This latest study reveals that this novelty has begun to wear off and many people are beginning to crave a return to some form of normality, with 53 percent of people surveyed now wanting to work from the office at least 80 percent of the time. The key reasons stated for this were more effective communication, better team collaboration and better productivity.
With the pandemic ongoing for approximately one year now depending on geography, along with new and varying waves of restrictions, the data also reflects increases in health fatigue. At the beginning of the pandemic, rates of physical exercise rose in many markets. However, by December 2020, rates declined in a number of markets – notably in the United States, which fell from 32 percent in October to 24 percent in December; in Thailand, which fell from 27 percent to 21 percent; and in Singapore, where it fell from 22 percent to 17 percent.
Sadler added, “The enduring nature of the pandemic is showing that some of the positive habits many people established at the onset may be waning. People are looking back to life before the pandemic, especially from a work perspective, as the pressure of work, family, home-schooling and other responsibilities are being felt.”
Despite the declines in physical well-being, overall family well-being scores have remained robust in most markets. When asked about their ability to spend quality time with their family, 40 percent of people surveyed said it was either excellent or very good. In many markets, results in this area have been more positive since the last study in October. In the UAE, 57 percent of people said they had high-quality family time in December compared to only 53 percent in October; in Spain it improved from 46 percent to 50 percent; in the UK it improved from 32 percent to 39 percent and in Singapore it improved from 30 percent to 37 percent.
People say they feel more able to take care of their loved ones. When specifically asked about their ability to take care of their spouse or partner’s health and well-being, 54 percent of people in the UK said it was excellent or very good, compared to 49 percent in October. In the UAE, it increased from 48 percent in October to 64 percent in December and in Spain it remained steady at 54 percent.
“The continued focus on family continues, which we hope will be a long-term benefit from the pandemic. Although people’s lives have changed significantly as they have adapted traditional roles of employee, partner, parent, carer and educator, for many, it has resulted in a greater connection with loved ones and potentially an improvement in their well-being,” Sadler said.
Since the beginning of 2020, different models of care have become embedded in our new normal. Notably, virtual health is now a widely accepted part of mainstream healthcare delivery in many markets across the world. Fifty-nine percent of people surveyed say they would choose to have a diagnosis virtually, compared to only 41 percent pre-pandemic. However, when asked how likely they would be to use virtual care if they could connect with their regular doctor, 73 percent of people said they would be receptive, rising to 88 percent in Thailand and the UAE, and 86 percent in Taiwan.
The trend toward increased utilization of health and well-being apps seems set to continue with 80 percent of people globally now reporting that they would consider or would prefer virtual rather than face-to-face engagement when it comes to general health advice, such as nutrition and lifestyle tips. There also continues to be strong interest in virtual health for mental health support, such as therapy and counselling, with 69 percent of people globally saying they would consider or would prefer virtual consultations, opening up the potential to rapidly expand mental health provision across the world.
Sadler concluded, “The experience of the last year has profoundly changed people’s expectations of healthcare with many now preferring to speak to clinicians virtually, rather than face to face. This presents a clear opportunity to adapt the healthcare journey for patients in the future, especially for general health, mental health and well-being support, delivering improved health outcomes for all in a way that works best for them as an individual.”
Click here to download Cigna’s COVID-19 Global Impact Study – 5th Edition
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How the study was conducted:
The Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact Study is an ongoing study that has been conducted by Cigna, in partnership with Kantar. To date, more than 25,000 online interviews have been conducted across China, Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.
The study was conducted using an online survey, with respondents recruited from online panels and undergo rigorous quality control. Age, gender and residing city quotas were set based on the population proportion of respective markets. The 20 to 25 minutes survey was completed anonymously.