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Wellcome Monitor 2020: COVID-19 Study

Published: August 2020

The Wellcome Monitor is a study of the British adult population’s awareness of, knowledge of, engagement with, and attitudes towards, science and health research.

In the run-up to the fifth wave of the Wellcome Monitor in March 2020, the decision was taken to include an additional module alongside the ‘core’ study asking specifically about the public’s experiences of the coronavirus outbreak.

The data collected provide a snapshot of the experiences of the public in April 2020 – soon after lockdown measures were first implemented in Britain, and at the height of the outbreak. This report focuses on some of the key findings from that data – including levels of concern of the public about the effect of the outbreak on different areas of their lives and their difficulty following restrictions, how clear they were on what they needed to do to reduce the effects of the outbreak, and their trust in the information from different sources. In particular, it explores how those views and experiences vary between different groups in the population such people in different financial circumstances or from different ethnic groups.

Selected findings

Concern about the effects of the coronavirus outbreak

  • Overall, people were concerned about the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on different areas of their lives
  • People from minority ethnic groups and those finding it most difficult financially were most likely to report high levels of concern about the effect of the coronavirus outbreak on their mental health, physical health and personal finances.
  • While older people were relatively concerned about the effect on their physical health, younger people were more concerned about their personal finances and the impact on their mental health.
  • Key workers were more concerned about the effect on their physical health than others in employment, but not on their mental health or personal finances.

Difficulty following lockdown restrictions

  • A large minority of people reported (40%) reported finding restrictions difficult to follow.
  • People from minority ethnic groups, key workers and those finding it more difficult financially were more likely to find following restrictions difficult.

Clarity of information on what to do and impact on behaviours

  • Most people (93%) said that information about what to do to minimise their risk of getting or spreading the coronavirus was quite or very clear.
  • However, people from minority ethnic groups were less likely to find information clear than those from White backgrounds.
  • People who found the information about what to do clear were more likely to perceive most spread-prevention measures as effective, but no more likely to take those measures up.

Trust in information sources and its impact on behaviours

  • Levels of trust were highest in information about coronavirus from health sector sources. Trust in information from government sources (including scientific advisers) was lower and trust in information from ‘everyday’ sources (e.g. employers, family and friends) was lowest.
  • People in minority ethnic groups, and people finding it more difficult financially were less likely to trust information from health sector and government sources.
  • People who trusted information from health scientists or government scientific advisers were more likely to think that most spread-prevention measures were effective but were no more or less likely to take them up.


Fieldwork for this wave of the Wellcome Monitor was conducted using the random-probability NatCen Panel. The NatCen Panel is a panel of people recruited from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, a high-quality, random probability face-to-face survey. Those agreeing to join the Panel are then invited to take part in additional short surveys covering a range of different topics either online or over the phone. By using a probability-based sample and allowing those without internet access to take part this design reduces the risk of bias compared to online-only surveys which exclude those who do not have access to, or are less confident using, the internet or surveys using convenience samples which are more likely to include people who are more ‘available’ or particularly want to express their views.

Fieldwork for this study began on the 30th of March 2020, one week after the lockdown was announced, and ended on the 26th of April 2020. A total of 2,651 people took part in the survey. This was comprised of a general population and ‘ethnic boost’ sample.  2,403 of the 4,058 panel members invited to take part, as part of the general population sample took part, giving a 59% survey response rate. Taking account of nonresponse at the BSA interview and at the point of recruitment to the panel, the overall response rate was 15%. The ‘boost’ of participants from minority ethnic groups increased their number from 178 to 379, allowing analysis of the experiences of people from more specific ethnic groups although small sample sizes limit the statistical power to detect differences.

Download from the Wellcome Trust