We’ve flattened the curve, so why are Australians more concerned than ever about the pandemic?

As Australians begin enjoying their newfound freedoms with the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions, you might expect the general level of concern in the community to drop.

But in fact, the opposite has occurred.

The latest round of the COVID-19 Monitor, a research project from Vox Pop Labs in partnership with the ABC, found a significant increase in the number of people who said they were very concerned about the pandemic.

Thirty-six per cent of people were very concerned, the highest number across the five weeks the survey was conducted.

The survey was conducted from May 16-20, while many states were in the throes of winding back the strictest restrictions.

People did not seem to be more concerned about their own health, but fears jumped that a family member or friend would contract the virus.

There was also more fear for the state of the nation’s books, with 23 per cent of people saying they were extremely concerned about the Australian economy, up 6 per cent on the previous week.

University of Queensland Psychology Professor Alex Haslam said the results showed people recognised the efforts to fight the virus were about maintaining the collective health of the nation.

“That’s one of the really positive things around the psychology of COVID-19, that it has brought out that sense of solidarity, that sense of connection to and responsibility for other people,” he said

“The psychology of COVID-19 is the psychology of ‘us’.

“The really successful leadership has been the leadership that has brought people together.

“Where it hasn’t worked is in the United States, where that has not happened, and I think where that’s starting to fall apart is in the UK at the moment.”

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings has been accused of breaking the country’s strict lockdown measures, undermining messaging about social distancing.

Most people are coping very well

The COVID-19 monitor has already found higher levels of loneliness and anxiety in Australia.

For the first time, participants were also asked how they were coping during the pandemic.

Almost four in five Australians said they were managing very well, with men more likely to say so than women.

But people tended to have a more pessimistic view on how their fellow citizens were doing.

Just 41 per cent of people thought Australians in general were coping well.

Older people tended to think Australians were coping better.

“I think we are entering uncharted waters and a critical phase of the pandemic, and I think people recognise that,” Professor Haslam said.

He said there was increasing uncertainty as Australia moved out of strict restrictions on movement and activities.

“Even if they’re not concerned for themselves, they’re concerned for vulnerable members of their community, of which there are plenty,” Professor Haslam said.

“This critical resource of that sense of shared identity is still intact.

“That’s the thing that we and our leaders need to help us hold onto, because that’s the thing that’s going to get us through these choppy waters ahead.”