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EuropePMC; 2020.
Preprint in English | EuropePMC | ID: ppcovidwho-308401


Background: Facing the COVID-19 epidemic, Taiwan has demonstrated resilience at the initial stage of epidemic prevention and effectively slowed down its spread. This study aims to capture public epidemic awareness toward the COVID-19 through collecting social media- and Internet-based data and elaborate on how the public epidemic awareness rose and played a role in the epidemic prevention in Taiwan during the initial course of COVID-19 spread. Methods: Using the Google search query volume of COVID-19 and face mask as indicators of public epidemic awareness, we collected the volume of news reports and the mentions on social media about COVID-19 and face masks between December 31, 2019, and February 29, 2020, through big data analysis and sorted the daily total confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and in Taiwan as well as critical mask-related measures implemented by the Taiwanese government to plot the trends in this information and conduct correlation analysis. Additionally, the content analysis was adopted to analyze the transmission of different types of fear information of COVID-19 between December 31, 2019, and March 29, 2020, and their effects on the public. Results: The Google search query volume of COVID-19 and face mask was significantly correlated with the number of confirmed cases in Taiwan, the number of news reports on COVID-19 (correlation coefficient: .74–.90). Since the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, public epidemic awareness has increased rapidly, prompting the government to formulate relevant emergency measures. Additionally, the findings from content analysis suggested that the fear of the loss of control best explains why panic behavior occurs in public. Conclusions: Confronting the highly infectious COVID-19, public epidemic awareness is vital. While fear is an inevitable product when an emerging infectious disease occurs, the government can convert resistance into assistance by understanding why fear arises and which fear factors cause excessive panic in public. Moreover, online social media promptly reflect public epidemic awareness, which can be used as a reference for epidemic prevention;this urges the government to deal with the crisis in the form of public opinion.