Research

South Africans’ understanding of and response to the COVID-19 outbreak: An online survey

S P Reddy, R Sewpaul, M Mabaso, S Parker, I Naidoo, S Jooste, T Mokhele, S Sifunda, K Zuma

Abstract


Background. The COVID-19 outbreak is in an accelerating phase, and South Africa (SA) has had the highest number of documented cases during the early phase of the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

Objectives. To assess South Africans’ understanding of and response to COVID-19 during the first week of the country’s lockdown period.

Methods. An online survey was conducted in SA from 27 March to 2 April 2020. The survey was distributed widely among several websites and social media networks, including on a data-free platform. Descriptive statistics of knowledge, risk perception, access to and trust in information sources, and public and media opinions were calculated. Estimates were benchmarked to the 2019 national adult population estimates.

Results. Of the 55 823 participants, the majority (83.4%) correctly identified the main symptoms of COVID-19. Over 90% had correct knowledge of the incubation period, with lower rates for 18 - 29-year-olds. Knowledge of symptoms and the incubation period varied significantly by population group (p<0.001), dwelling type (p<0.001) and sex (p<0.001). A quarter (24.9%) perceived themselves as at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Risk perception varied by age, population group, employment status and dwelling type (p<0.001). The most prevalent COVID-19 information sources were government sources (72.9%), news websites/apps (56.3%), satellite television (51.6%) and local television (51.4%).

Conclusions. Understanding knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of people facing the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial for guiding strategic policy. These findings provide public understanding of COVID-19 as the phases of the country-level epidemic progress, and also directly inform communication needs and gaps.


Authors' affiliations

S P Reddy, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa; Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

R Sewpaul, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

M Mabaso, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

S Parker, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

I Naidoo, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

S Jooste, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

T Mokhele, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

S Sifunda, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

K Zuma, Human and Social Capabilities, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

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Keywords

South Africa; COVID-19; Public response; Knowledge; Attitudes; Prevention

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2020;110(9):894-902.

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-08-11
Date published: 2020-08-11

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