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Limited Early Warnings and Public Attention to Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China, January–February, 2020: A Longitudinal Cohort of Randomly Sampled Weibo Users

  • Yuner Zhu (a1), King-Wa Fu (a1), Karen A. Grépin (a2), Hai Liang (a3) and Isaac Chun-Hai Fung (a4)...

Abstract

Objective:

Awareness and attentiveness have implications for the acceptance and adoption of disease prevention and control measures. Social media posts provide a record of the public’s attention to an outbreak. To measure the attention of Chinese netizens to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a pre-established nationally representative cohort of Weibo users was searched for COVID-19-related key words in their posts.

Methods:

COVID-19-related posts (N = 1101) were retrieved from a longitudinal cohort of 52 268 randomly sampled Weibo accounts (December 31, 2019–February 12, 2020).

Results:

Attention to COVID-19 was limited prior to China openly acknowledging human-to-human transmission on January 20. Following this date, attention quickly increased and has remained high over time. Particularly high levels of social media traffic appeared around when Wuhan was first placed in quarantine (January 23–24, 8–9% of the overall posts), when a scandal associated with the Red Cross Society of China occurred (February 1, 8%), and, following the death of Dr Li Wenliang (February 6–7, 11%), one of the whistleblowers who was reprimanded by the Chinese police in early January for discussing this outbreak online.

Conclusion:

Limited early warnings represent missed opportunities to engage citizens earlier in the outbreak. Governments should more proactively communicate early warnings to the public in a transparent manner.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to Karen A. Grépin, School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong (e-mail: kgrepin@hku.hk; or Isaac Chun-Hai Fung, Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Environmental Health Sciences, Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA30460-7989 (e-mail: cfung@georgiasouthern.edu).

References

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Limited Early Warnings and Public Attention to Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China, January–February, 2020: A Longitudinal Cohort of Randomly Sampled Weibo Users

  • Yuner Zhu (a1), King-Wa Fu (a1), Karen A. Grépin (a2), Hai Liang (a3) and Isaac Chun-Hai Fung (a4)...

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