Special Report – Very popular

Surveys show stronger adherence to some COVID-19 precautionary measures like face mask wearing (96.4 per cent) but not others, such as social distancing (42.3 per cent).

MB January 2021 Special Report | The COVID-19 year

Two factors distinguished Macau in this first year of COVID-19: The speed with which the first measures were imposed, and the strong adherence of the population to these and almost all measures in general.

It is true that “indeed, citizens in Macau are by and large obedient to the government,” as Jianhua Xu, head in the Department of Sociology at the University of Macau, recalls to Macau Business, but that is not the only factor.

The truth is that the support, at least in this first year, has been overwhelming: 94.4 per cent of the respondents of a Macao Polling Research Association’s survey found that information disseminated by the government on epidemic prevention is “helpful,” and 93.3 per cent of those who have obtained government information will continue to use the corresponding channels to obtain such information in the future.

According to the research, 92.2 per cent of the respondents are satisfied with the information about COVID-19 published by the government, and 94.7 per cent are satisfied with the overall performance of the Macau government dealing with the prevention of the epidemic, “indicating [that the] government commitment to constant communication with transparent figures is rewarded by positive public evaluations.”

“High social inequality is conducive to popular protest, although no one can predict when and how they will take place.” – Jianhua Xu 

Those figures also “indicate a high level of public perception of the usefulness of government information in helping/supporting them with epidemic prevention, as well as a confirmation of the government’s effort, especially in terms of information dissemination,” state the team of researchers, led by Angus Cheong, that sought to assess how the people of Macau judged the government’s communication on issues related to COVID-19.

The survey from Macao Polling Research Association is not the only one held in Macau known during 2020.

Juliet Chan, postdoctoral associate, Department of Psychology, University of Macau, has been involved, with other colleagues, in several studies. Through one of them, we learned that, “Based on our data collected this April, we found stronger adherence to some COVID-19 precautionary measures like face mask wearing (96.4 per cent “often” or “always”) but not others, such as social distancing (42.3 per cent “often” or “always”).”

“Our data implies that people are more likely to adhere to COVID-19 precautionary measures if they can perceive a higher level of benefit, a lower level of barrier, and a higher level of cut-to-action of performing these precautionary behaviours, as well as a higher level of severity of being COVID-19 infected,” Ms Chen explains. “Besides, we observed a higher adherence rate among those who believe more in the notion that positive outcomes can be achieved by their efforts and less in the notion that human nature and the social world can bring about negative consequences.”

Another study in which Juliet Chan was involved followed the conclusions of the Macao Polling Research Association and “highlighted the positive association among public trust, public satisfaction, and one’s adherence practices. Those who endorsed a higher level of trust and satisfaction towards the local Macau government tend to report a higher rate of adherence to precautionary measures.”

Could protests return?

It makes sense to recover the unusual forecast of Ho Iat Seng during the last Policy Address: “As time goes by, the pressures on employment and the lives of the population will gradually increase; deep problems and conflicts will arise, previously covered by the accelerated economic growth, and the population needs, accumulated over the years, will become more pronounced.”

Jianhua Xu, adjunct professor at the Centre for Macau Studies, University of Macau, understands these words of the CE: “The social inequality in Macau is relatively high. High social inequality is conducive to popular protest, although no one can predict when and how they will take place.”

Recalling at Macau Business that over the past two decades, we have seen several large-scale popular protests in Macau (e.g, the 2007 Labour Day protest and the 2014 anti-retirement package for SAR senior government officials), the head of the Department of Sociology believes, “The Macau government is aware of the issue and various measures have been taken to reduce the social discontent, such as various social welfare policies and cash sharing scheme. But I am not sure how effective these measures will be in reducing long-term discontent.”

Read more | Special Report – The deepest contraction