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.
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).
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.
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.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
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