Strict lockdown rules make SA unhappiest in country comparison – study

SANDF members patrol the streets of Alexandra Township north of Johannesburg, 3 March 2020. on the seventh day of national lockdown. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Though lockdowns do minimise the physical damage of the virus, there is substantial damage to population’s happiness, well-being and livelihoods.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments have implemented lockdown regulations to curb the spread of the virus.

Researchers studying three very diverse countries – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – regarding their economies, political situation and demographic factors, as well as the strictness of their lockdown regulations, have found:

– That lockdown regulations are the direct cause of lower levels of happiness during the pandemic (the researchers used Difference-in-Difference econometric modelling strategies), thus even considering the diversity of countries and lockdown regulations, a lockdown decreases happiness and well-being;

– The stricter the lockdown regulations, the greater the happiness loss. The average happiness loss, considering all three countries, was at least 6% (on 10 June) due to the lockdown. However, the loss in South Africa was greater than in the other countries.

As mentioned, the three countries selected in this study are very diverse: New Zealand is an island economy with a relatively small population of 5.5 million people, had an average happiness level for 2020 of 7.14 and the economic outlook was positive.

The annual GDP growth rate in the year to December 2019 was 2.3%, the unemployment rate was relatively low at 4.2% (Statistics New Zealand 2020) and the debt as a percentage of GDP was 25%.

South Africa, on the other hand, with the largest population of the three countries, with 57.7 million people, had a lower average happiness score of 6.32. South Africa had 2 529 – out of a population of 57.7 million – Covid-19-related deaths.

In addition, all three countries had different responses to curbing the spread of Covid-19.

South Africa and New Zealand both had very strict lockdown regulations.

During South Africa’s Level 5 lockdown, people were allowed to leave their homes only for essential reasons and were instructed to work from home.

The same regulations held for New Zealanders; however, New Zealanders were allowed to buy alcohol and tobacco, and exercise was permitted outside their homes.

Currently South Africa is on Level 3, slightly relaxing the lockdown measures, whereas New Zealand has progressed to Level 1, with no restrictions except on international travel.

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia, which follows a federal system of government, never went into complete lockdown, such as that implemented by both New Zealand and South Africa.

Considering these facts, it is interesting to find that the country with the bleakest economic outlook and the lowest levels of happiness and well-being, considering the three countries researched, persists in enforcing severe lockdown measures, notwithstanding the happiness and economic costs of the lockdown regulations.

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