As the first country impacted by COVID-19, China’s success in containing this pandemic relies on the public’s high trust in, support of, and cooperation with the government . Specifically, the Chinese government worked the functional crisis management with a lockdown policy to tell the world: the suspicion measurement is efficient for controlling disease spread [10, 11]. Further, the success of controlling new incidence cases includes the collective willpower from the public building under the success risk communications. The analysis of results indicated and provided three evidence-based recommendations for risk communication.
Initially, the public’s trust in health professionals, government agencies, and social media information sources can influence disease prevention’s perceived utility. As discussed in the previous literature about SARS, the public’s worry about epidemiological news and rumors . Similarly, relating to the information about COVID-19, the study found that compared with social media (e.g., TikTok, WeChat), the participants prefer obtaining information from authorized channels, such as government official websites. This finding state that people have higher trust in expert, knowledgeable, and unbiased sources. Therefore, the study suggests the governments can explore diversity channels to hold risk communications with the public. For example, the public officials can prepare communities, risk managers, government spokespersons, hospital personnel to respond to crisis challenges.
Furthermore, in a risk communication situation, developing and updating timely information can improve the public’s perceived risk effectiveness. In reviewing the COVID-19 outbreak from the public’s perspective, it is seen that insufficient information publicly available at the early stages of the epidemic made it more difficult to confine the virus with the least amount of costs. However, when faced with the new disease, China provided specific disease data to the WHO and the whole world for seeking more information and findings of COVID-19. As the WHO mentioned, although the initial stage is the window period in China, the publication of data and information contributes to the world, showing that the goal is to earn more time and more experiences on preventing the disease . On the other hand, the presented information related to brief and precise disease data helps improve the public’s perceived risk. Some studies found the people relied on receiving information from media, and they often judge personal risk based on their impressions of overall disease prevalence and severity [11, 30]. Studies have also shown that media reports about outbreaks that specify numbers of cases, hospitalizations, or deaths can influence avoidance behavior and contact patterns at both individual and community levels [11, 21, 30]. Thus, our study highlights that timely release of information related to the epidemic, specific prevention instructions, and updates are imperative to prevent the epidemic’s escalation.
Overall, our findings suggest the government should report the epidemic information logically and coherently, allowing the public, especially the elderly and other vulnerable populations, the time to be aware and to take appropriate protective actions as recommended. As firmly announced by the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China and the WHO: being first, being right, and being credible [28, 31].
The questionnaire results also noted that social media ever-increasingly becomes a critical channel to disseminate and reinforce information to the public, which should adequately utilize to provide accurate, non-contradictory, and easy-to-understand messages. Multiple information channels combined with modern technology may facilitate delivering a visualized and timely message .
This study has developed work in an iterative process. It referenced the body of work that addresses public risk communications’ effects on the individual’s perceived risk and preventive actions. It is acknowledged that our survey sample recruited online may mainly present participants prone to internet information, as most Internet-based questionnaire studies [30, 32]. While the internet is ever-becoming the primary channel for rapid and timely dissemination and access to information [33, 34], our study provides vital evidence to understand people’s trust in online information, thus better guiding them about preventing behaviors via mass media. For future studies, the authors recommend more rounds of cognitive interviews or focus groups to ensure the survey items are accessible and understandable to a wide variety of individuals. Additionally, follow-up interviews would flush out additional issues in the survey’s wording and structure. For the next step, it is necessary to confirm these relationships in the conceptual model by testing the survey.