COVID-19 has been grabbing the headlines and generating justifiable fear and panic worldwide over the past month. With no vaccine or treatment identified as yet, that concern is well-founded.
Recently, Black Dot Research carried out a survey to assess the attitudes of Singaporeans towards COVID-19 and their knowledge of it. The survey compiled answers from 100 respondents, compromising of a mix of ages, genders, ethnicities, and education backgrounds to best represent the Singapore population.
A NEW (WILD) VIRUS APPEARS
While COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, has been described to cause patients to display flu-like symptoms, it is not related to the influenza virus we’re familiar with. However, it is similar to the flu virus in the way it spreads. When asked about the modes of transmission of COVID-19, our respondents accurately identified droplets (98%), direct contact (69%) and indirect contact with contaminated surfaces and objects (56%).
As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 causes patients to display flu-like symptoms, so we asked our respondents to identify flu-like symptoms. Some of them were able to recognize fever (88%), sore-throat (86%), fatigue (66%) and shortness of breath (48%) as common signs of infection. Other symptoms such as runny nose (94%) and headaches (64%), while only seen in a smaller number of cases, were also identified.
HYGIENE IS THE SAFETY NET WE NEED
The survey also delved into personal hygiene practices, an aspect that has been reiterated by authorities as a way to prevent infection. Only hand hygiene (77%), avoiding travel to infected places (75%) and staying away from sick people (75%) were widely practiced. This might be due to public health announcements on mass media emphasizing the importance of washing hands frequently.
More than half of our respondents also avoid touching their faces (53%), and to a lesser extent, avoiding contact with live animals (41%). In contrast, while mask-wearing (33%) and avoiding the sharing of utensils (28%) were seen as preventive measures, the proportion of those who actively practice them was far lower than perceived usefulness.
IS THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS AN INFORMATION PLAGUE?
Since not a lot was known about the nature of disease and the risks it entailed at the start, the public was not just trying to navigate through an epidemic, but also an ‘infodemic’ – a term the World Health Organization (WHO) used to indicate ‘an over-abundance of information’. While there were many sources of information and apparent ‘experts’ stepping forward to proclaim their take on it, many weren’t in sync with what each other were saying. This, in turn, generated a lot more questions than answers. The uncertainty also triggered the dissemination of misinformation, some created with malicious intent.
Fortunately, most of our respondents were well-aware, and tried to develop their own ‘immunity’ against fake news. 43% said they will share information from uncredited sources only after verifying with credible sources, while 25% will share a post if it’s consistent with existing news.
DESIGNING MAXIMUM PROTECTION
We then asked our respondents what they needed from a governmental level, and the top response was that they wanted two-way communication between the authorities and public (83%). While the Singapore government has been active in leveraging on their social media platforms as a communication tool (i.e. WhatsApp channel to push out timely updates on COVID-19, Ministry of Health’s Facebook & Twitter), not everyone chose social networking platforms (9%) as their preferred medium to seek information.
Informing and engaging the community on actions to reduce risks of contracting the virus is vital as our respondents also cited public education (80%) as a high priority. Provision of information in a clear, accessible way is required to optimize community acceptance of public health actions to prevent or respond to a pandemic. While there are measures put in place by the government, the community may still respond differently when the threat of a pandemic is imminent.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT COVID-19, FOR NOW
The next few months may be critical, and it is important for all of us to exercise social responsibility to minimize the spread of the virus. The simple stuff includes washing hands more frequently with soap and water, disinfecting frequently touched objects, and avoid touching our face with our hands unnecessarily. All of these actions are also recommended by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Hopefully, through behavioural changes such as these, we will be able to prevent this virus from becoming a global pandemic. To further protect our society, respondents have expressed that social distancing measures (77%), such as school closures and isolation of sick persons to reduce transmission of the virus might be required to be put in place.
Too often when epidemics strike in far off lands, all we get fed, news-wise, is a steady stream of horrifying images of ghost towns and people in hazmat suits. It is events like these that make you truly understand the complex nature of epidemics, their cultural effects as well as their scientific determinants.
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