New Zealanders are complying less with Covid-19 rules as people's attention shifts to issues like the cost of living, according to research from the Government's own Covid survey.
The survey shows a significant drop off in the willingness of people to trust the Prime Minister as the main source of truth about the pandemic.
People remain confident in their ability to identify misinformation, and twice as many people use mainstream media for Covid information as use social media.
At least every eight weeks, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet receives a survey of how New Zealanders feel about Covid-19. It looks at how much people are willing to comply with health rules and whether they trust health messaging on the virus, along with broader health messaging.
The May survey has just been released and shows significant declines in a willingness to comply with Covid rules, although compliance levels were quite high to begin with. Between March and May of this year, the number of people willing to use a face mask when required dropped to 67 per cent, down 11 points.
The number of people willing to isolate if feeling sick or unwell fell 12 points to 47 per cent. The number of people who would get a rapid antigen test (RAT) if required fell to 44 per cent, down three points.
Only 35 per cent of people want to wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, down six points, and only 36 per cent of people cough or sneeze into their elbows.
Just 27 per cent of people will officially record the result of a Covid-19 RAT, including if they get a negative result.
The biggest worry for New Zealanders is no longer Covid-19, but the cost of living, which 77 per cent of respondents said was one of their biggest concerns - Covid came second with 44 per cent.
The story of New Zealanders' Covid compliance is not one of a straight drop-off as they got used to living with the virus. Compliance tends to wax and wane with various waves of the pandemic.
In September 2021, when New Zealand was in lockdown, willingness to use facemasks soared 31 points to 78 per cent. Willingness to get a Covid-19 test rose to 48 per cent, up 17 points. Before that, willingness to use facemasks was lower than it is now - partly explained by the different rules at the time.
Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said public health messaging, which this research was designed to inform, had "helped stop the spread of the virus during the initial outbreak, and slowed the spread of Delta, when it arrived, enabling New Zealand to be one of the few countries that had a highly vaccinated population before Delta was widespread in the community".
She said the Covid response was informed by expert advice, "including research into public sentiment".
"Social licence is one of the factors we consider when deciding on Covid-19 Protection Framework settings.
"This research is also used to identify gaps in the provision of public information around Covid-19 and ensure those gaps are addressed," she said.
The survey also asked whose opinion people sought out and listened to on Covid-19.
It found 42 per cent of people sought out then-director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, down 6 points from March. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern polled just 33 per cent, down 7 points since March and well down on her score from January, when she polled 48 per cent.
Commentators like Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Michael Baker scored 18 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.
Overall, New Zealanders' feelings about the pandemic have settled. In November, nearly 35 per cent felt sad and just under 25 per cent felt angry about the pandemic.
Now, just 15 per cent feel sad, and 10 per cent feel angry. They're outnumbered by 17 per cent who feel joyful.
Far more Kiwis - 45 per cent - feel "neutral" about the pandemic. The number who feel "neutral" has fluctuated between 40 and 45 per cent since May last year.
One area that's had a significant reset in sentiment is people's feelings about whether the country is going in the right or wrong direction with its management of the pandemic.
In September 2021, 70 per cent of people felt New Zealand was on the right track. This plunged to 41 per cent in November before rising to 53 per cent in December.
The May survey had "right direction" at 47 per cent, up three points on March.
Twenty-six per cent of people think the country is heading in the wrong direction, down 30 per cent from March, but up from the low of 15 per cent registered in July last year.
An overwhelming majority of New Zealanders, 78 per cent, said they felt they could identify Covid-19 misinformation.
Exactly half of New Zealanders got their Covid information from the mainstream media.
Just 23 per cent used social media and 20 per cent searched for Covid information on the internet.
The Ministry of Health and Covid-19 websites were sources of information for 35 and 34 per cent of people respectively.
When asked what their main barrier to isolating was, 61 per cent of people said they could not take time off work - this was unchanged from March.
Exactly half of those surveyed said they could not "be bothered", up 2 points.
One significant change was the number of people who could no longer understand why they needed to isolate. This increased 13 points to 35 per cent.
The survey ran from May 16 to 26 and interviewed a representative sample of 818 New Zealanders. It has a margin of error of 3.4 per cent.