UK public ‘most concerned’ about coronavirus – more than Spain or Italy, study suggests

Silhouette of man standing at the window in a darkened room

“Risk perception” among the UK population is greater than in nine other countries surveyed for latest research.

A new study of public attitudes across Europe, America and Asia has found that people in the UK have the highest overall levels of concern about coronavirus – more than Italy or Spain – while those in South Korea are the least concerned.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge conducted surveys on how people feel and think about the risk of the virus between mid-March and mid-April, across ten different countries with varying approaches to tackling the pandemic.

The study, co-authored by Dr Sarah Dryhurst and Dr Claudia Schneider from the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, measured risk perception by combining people’s ratings of how prevalent, how life-threatening, and how worrying they thought the virus was.

The Cambridge team also set out to uncover some of the key psychological factors behind people’s concern. The findings, based on data from 6,991 participants, are published in the Journal of Risk Research.

“Without pharmaceutical treatment, we are relying on people changing their behaviour to put the brakes on this pandemic,” said Dr Sander van der Linden, study lead and Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.

“The willingness to adopt protective behaviours such as frequent hand-washing or physical distancing is likely to be influenced, in part, by how risky people perceive the virus to be.”

“We think this is the first comparative evidence of how people perceive the risk of COVID-19 around the world,” he said.

In the study’s sample, Spain followed the UK for greatest public concern about coronavirus, with the US in third place. Although remaining differences were smaller, Germany came in fourth above Sweden – where the government has been less proscriptive about lockdowns – followed by Australia then Japan.

Perhaps surprisingly, Italy – the pandemic’s first European epicentre – ranked fairly low out of the ten nations, with only Mexico and South Korea having lower average risk perception scores.

However, there was little difference between many of the countries, with risk perception generally high in all nations.

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Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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