Public perceptions, anxiety and the perceived efficacy of health-protective behaviours to mitigate the spread of the SARS-Cov-2/ COVID-19 pandemic

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Objectives: Data relating to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Middle East remains sparse. This study examines the public's perceptions of the pandemic, assesses the extent to which participants have adhered to a range of recommended health-protective behaviours to prevent infection and evaluates whether anxiety about COVID-19 or perceptions related to the pandemic are associated with greater adherence to these behaviours. Study design: A cross-sectional, survey-based design was used. Data were collected using an electronic survey distributed to students, staff and faculty at universities in the three major cities of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai, between the 23rd and 31st of April 2020. A total of 634 participants were included in the analysis. Methods: Participants reported whether they had adhered to health-protective behaviours such as spatial distancing, increased hygiene and disinfection and diminished time spent outside their homes. They also reported the perceived efficacy of a range of behaviours aimed at reducing risk for contracting COVID-19. Data relating to perception of risk, negative consequences of contracting the disease, perceived longevity of the illness and perceptions of the accuracy of the information read about COVID-19 were collected. Anxiety related to COVID-19 was also assessed, as well as a range of demographic variables. Binary logistic regressions were used to examine whether the demographic variables, perceived efficacy ratings and the perception variables were associated with overall adherence. Results: A total of 44.8% of the sample reported adherence to all the examined behaviours. Participants who were employed, those with some or completed postsecondary education and those with a chronic illness diagnosis were more likely to adhere to the precautionary behaviours. The perception of personal risk of infection (odds ratio [OR]: 0.83, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.71–0.98), perception of substantial life consequences of becoming infected (OR: 0.87, 95% CI: 0.75–0.10) and the perception that the public health information was clear (OR: 0.69, 95% CI: 0.57–0.83) were all positively related with behavioural adherence. The health-protective behaviours were all perceived as being highly efficacious in combating infection, and these efficacy ratings were also positively associated with greater behavioural adherence (OR: 0.41–0.77). Having read the official government public health information was related to greater behavioural adherence (OR: 0.37, 95% CI: 0.23–0.61). Conclusions: Dissemination of reliable public health information during a public health crisis is essential. This study's results highlight the importance of providing the public with information that is clear and consistent and, moreover, emphasises the efficacy of the recommended behaviours as this is likely to improve adherence. When individuals perceive themselves to be at personal risk and are aware of the severity of the consequences posed by the illness, they are more likely to adopt caution. However, in this sample, the trustworthiness of the information portrayed in the media and the perceived duration of the pandemic – whether this would resolve soon or persist well into the future – did not impact adherence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-73
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Adherence
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • SARS-Cov-2
  • United Arab Emirates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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