Are consumers avoiding indoor environments?

Covid is not only affecting people’s health and wellbeing but also their behaviour and perceptions of danger.

For example, one in 10 people have walked out of a premises because they have felt so uncomfortable about the risk of catching COVID-19, according to a new report by facilities services provider phs Group.

In new, independently-commissioned consumer research, phs uncovers that more than one in five consumers in the UK have experienced inadequate hygiene measures and nearly half (46%) have been faced with a lack of social distancing. This has led to 29% saying they are not confident in the hygiene measures within the places they visit and 34% lacking confidence in their social distancing practices.

The findings are reported by phs Group in its latest phs index report published today (10 December 2020) analysing the impact of COVID restrictions on organisation closures and consumer confidence in visiting premises during the coronavirus pandemic. It particularly highlights consumer concerns on the airborne risk of spreading COVID-19 indoors.

Within the report, new phs Index data reveals as many as 14% of UK premises shut again during the peak of tightening restrictions. In England, the closure rate at the peak of lockdown was 15%.

The most impacted sectors are the arts, entertainment and recreation and food services and accommodation with more than half of premises shutting down at the peak of restrictions (54% and 51% respectively).

Worryingly for businesses, 46% of consumers believe that the closing down of venues such as pubs, restaurants, gyms and non-essential retail makes them feel they are not COVID-safe environments.

Phs reveals more than two-thirds (68%) of consumers are concerned about catching COVID-19 indoors with 54% saying they are more concerned as winter approaches. Almost half (47%) do not want to spend time in indoor environments due to the risk of coronavirus and nearly a third (30%) say they only do so if they have to. While 51% say they have avoided indoor settings due to the risk of catching COVID-19, 41% did so as they were worried others would come too close to them. A quarter (26%) avoided places as they didn’t trust the measures in place were enough to protect them.

With Christmas playing heavily on the minds of the nation, 47% of people say they have already changed their usual plans. The majority agree that Christmas interactions may increase the spread of COVID-19; phs found 66% are concerned people will be less vigilant of social distancing rules indoors over the festive season. The research found 37% confess being less vigilant at social distancing when spending time indoors with friends or family.

The call to action from consumers for organisations is clear. 54% say organisations should be doing more to reduce the risk of infection. 51% say premises should limit numbers indoors, 46% call for mask enforcement at entrances and 39% want someone to be tasked with enforcing physical distancing indoors. 29% of people call for organisations to install air purifiers indoors. However, once they learned how air purifiers clean the air by physically removing impurities such as germs, viruses and pollutants, as many as 61% say air purifiers should be mandatory in indoor environments to curb the spread of the virus. Consumers say these measures would make them feel safer, reassured, that the premises had their best interests in mind and, crucially, more likely to visit

Within the report, phs air quality experts have teamed up with a leading Cambridge University professor to examine the airborne risk of coronavirus indoors; a risk they suggest is not being taken seriously enough in the fight against infection.

Fluid mechanics expert Professor Paul Linden, of Cambridge University, commented: “Indoor air quality is a real concern in the spread of coronavirus. Much of the focus on COVID-19 has been the transmission by physical touch and larger droplets expelled when an infected person breathes, talks and coughs but what we’re not talking about enough is the smaller infected droplets and particles which remain airborne and are not contained by masks. Growing evidence indicates these infected aerosols linger in the air for hours at a time and can be spread around a building – even after an infected person has left creating an extended risk of transmission. During the winter, we’re more likely to be spending time indoors with less natural ventilation, meaning the air we breathe could be more concentrated with particulates. If we fail to combat the risk of airborne infection, we risk being exposed by a large gap in our defences. Improving indoor air quality must be at the forefront if we truly want to create COVID-safe environments.”

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