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How has the emergence of the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern influenced worry, perceived risk and behaviour in the UK? A series of cross-sectional surveys

Publication date: 

29 Aug 2022


BMJ Open 2022;12:e061203


Smith LE, Potts HWW, Amlôt R, Fear NT, Michie S and Rubin GJ

Publication type: 



Abstract Objectives To investigate changes in beliefs and behaviours following news of the Omicron variant and changes to guidance understanding of Omicron-related guidance, and factors associated with engaging with protective behaviours. Design Series of cross-sectional surveys (1 November to 16 December 2021, five waves of data collection). Setting Online. Participants People living in England, aged 16 years or over (n=1622–1902 per wave). Primary and secondary outcome measures Levels of worry and perceived risk, and engagement with key behaviours (out-of-home activities, risky social mixing, wearing a face covering and testing uptake). Results Degree of worry and perceived risk of COVID-19 (to oneself and people in the UK) fluctuated over time, increasing slightly around the time of the announcement about Omicron (p<0.001). Understanding of rules in England was varied, ranging between 10.3% and 91.9%, with people overestimating the stringency of the new rules. Rates of wearing a face covering and testing increased over time (p<0.001). Meeting up with people from another household decreased around the time of the announcement of Omicron (29 November to 1 December), but then returned to previous levels (p=0.002). Associations with protective behaviours were investigated using regression analyses. There was no evidence for significant associations between out-of-home activity and worry or perceived risk (COVID-19 generally or Omicron-specific, p≥0.004; Bonferroni adjustment p<0.002 applied). Engaging in highest risk social mixing and always wearing a face covering were associated with worry and perceived risk about COVID-19 (p≤0.001). Always wearing a face covering in shops was associated with having heard more about Omicron (p<0.001). Conclusions Almost 2 years into the COVID-19 outbreak, the emergence of a novel variant of concern only slightly influenced worry and perceived risk. The main protective behaviour (wearing a face covering) promoted by new guidance showed significant re-uptake, but other protective behaviours showed little or no change.