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How has COVID-19 affected our trust?

Tuesday, 19. May 2020


By Manon Michelle Monhemius


Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, I have been hearing and reading different stories on how the pandemic is influencing our trust; trust in each other, trust in institutions and trust in the media. Whilst there are studies showing that trust in government and media is up, trust amongst people appears to be breaking down. What is happening?

Trust in institutions

Different studies show that in several countries trust in government is up. Some say it is even at its highest point in 20 years. When we are in a state of fear, do we rely more on our governments to take the lead and tell us what is right? A report based on different studies done on trust through the years show that in different crisis situations, like 9/11, trust in government spikes. It also shows though, that it plummets again a year after the crisis has taken place. Will the same happen with the increase in trust we are seeing now in times of the COVID-19 crisis?

In an article by Uyên Lu, Communications Coordinator at Initiatives of Change Netherlands, she speaks about ‘our fragile freedom’, which I have also thought about. Do we trust too much in the government right now? Uyên, who arrived in The Netherlands 40 years ago as a Vietnamese refugee, shared how she is cautious about the influence from China, and shares how she has studied numerous reports that indicate ‘doctors in China have been silenced when they wanted to warn the world about the coronavirus.’ She also states that ‘Human Rights Watch has rung the bell on the gross violation of human rights within China regarding the virus.’

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Trust in each other

While our trust in government has risen, there is a breakdown of trust between citizens in some communities. For example, there has been serious discrimination and hate crime against Chinese people recently. In India Muslims are being blamed for the spread of COVID-19. ‘Many Hindus say Muslims are deliberately attempting to spread coronavirus to wage a holy war or jihad against the majority Hindus,’ said Zainab Sikander, a political commentator based in New Delhi. ‘Such bigotry has not only been normalized but has been encouraged through ruling party propaganda against Muslims.’ It is a heartbreaking example of how fear is being used to break down the trust in communities.

Can a lack of trust be good?

A lack of trust though, also seems to have some benefits, where it comes to public health. For example, in Romania, where there’s a strict lockdown, people are serious about social distance. The people have little trust in their country’s health system and do not believe they would be treated if infected. So, they prefer to take all public health measures seriously. On the other hand, in the Netherlands, most people are following the guidelines of ‘intelligent lockdown’. However, the Dutch COVID-19 mortality rate is much higher than those of neighboring countries, like Germany. The less severe lockdown measures coupled with a stronger economy may have given the Dutch people a false sense of security.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Confused but motivated

Possibly, you might feel like me these last months, both confused but motivated with all the very diverse, and often conflicting, stories we hear from around the world. Confused because I am not sure anymore what to believe but motivated to put more energy into restoring trust into communities. I feel the work of the Trustbuilding Program is more important now, perhaps more than before, because of the disparity that we are seeing now.

How has COVID-19 affected YOUR trust? As the Communications Officer of the Trustbuilding Program, I am looking to share stories from all corners of the world relating this trustbuilding. This pandemic has increased divides, but in working together, we can restore trust in our communities. Please share your stories with me here.


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The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.