UCL Institute of Health Informatics


New Paper: Worry and Behaviour at the Start of the COVID-19 Outbreak

6 January 2022

Henry Potts, Susan Michie and team publish data on the public's response to COVID-19 in early 2020.

Red covid-19 molecule on a black background with the words 'COVID-19' across it in white bold letters

In a new paper, the CORSAIR team, including UCL's Professors Henry Potts and Susan Michie, publishes data on the public's response to COVID-19 very early in the pandemic, with results from three population-representative surveys carried out 28 January-13 February 2020. Data collection for the first survey thus began before the first COVID-19 case had been detected in the UK (31 January 2020) and all three surveys were carried out while the total UK case number was in single figures and before the first COVID-19 death in the country (announced 5 March 2020).

There was significant behaviour change while the individual risk was still low. In this period, 20% of the sample were very or extremely worried about COVID-19. People from minoritized ethnic groups were particularly likely to feel worried. 40% of participants completed hand or respiratory hygiene behaviours more than usual. Doing so was associated with greater worry, greater perceived effectiveness of these behaviours, greater sense of self-efficacy for engaging in them, and having received more information. 14% of the sample had reduced the number of people they met at a time before any restrictions or lockdown had begun.

At the start of novel infectious disease outbreaks, communications should emphasise perceived effectiveness of behaviours and the ease with which they can be carried out.

Read the full paper