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20/02/2020
Society, Asia

Coronavirus: Asia on edge

Blackbox Research and Toluna conducted the world’s largest poll on the coronavirus to date. 4,111 people across nine Asian countries and territories were asked their opinions on the coronavirus outbreak and their Governments’ responses.  

The survey was conducted from 14th to 17th February across Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. 

Summary 

  • 84% of those surveyed across the region want a blanket ban on flights from China.
  • Countries are split on whether the crisis will get worse or better in the next month
  • Japan (85%), Hong Kong (72%), Singapore (64%) and Thailand (56%) believe the number of cases in their country/territory will rise in the coming month. More optimism in South Korea (26%), Indonesia (33%) and the Philippines (35%). Vietnam (49%) and Malaysia (45%) are split on the prognosis.
  • Regional anxiety levels are high but do not necessarily correlate with the number of reported local cases: 69% of Vietnamese report they are worried about the outbreak, with 16 cases reported as of 17thFebruary. In contrast, only 32% of South Koreans are concerned, with 30 reported cases.
  • General concern at the impact of the outbreak on the local and international economies: 83% of Malaysians believe the outbreak is affecting the international economy. The most optimistic nation is Japan, but still with 58% believing there is an impact. This closely matches opinions of the impact on local economies. Malaysia (77%), Hong Kong (76%) and Singapore (73%) have the greatest perception of impact on the domestic economy; 57% in Japan and Indonesia say the same.
  • There is wide disparity in confidence of governments’ reactions to the crisis:  Vietnamese citizens are happiest with their government’s response – 81% say the government has acted appropriately in addressing the virus. In contrast, only 23% of Hong Kongers believe their government has acted appropriately. In fact, 73% of Hong Kong residents believe the government has acted insufficiently or not at all in response to the virus.
  • Asians have also shifted their day to day behaviour, with most countries reporting a focus on washing hands, wearing face masks, avoiding crowded places and attending to personal health.
  • Across the region23% say they are working from home more, the largest number being in Hong Kong (39%).


In other key findings: 

  • Singaporeans are paying most attention to the news and information about the virus (62%) while Japanese are paying the least attention (19%).


  • In terms of news coverage, Asians are largely following coronavirus news on television. TV is also seen as the most credible news source. The exception is tightly controlled Singapore, where online/digital newspapers are being relied on most and government websites are seen as being the most credible news source. 
  • While only 15% of those surveyed across the region said they view social media news/information sources as credible, this figure is double in Hong Kong (31%). 

Anxiety 

We asked respondents how worried they were about the coronavirus outbreak. We also asked them about other things that might cause anxiety, so that we could compare the medical emergency with other challenges. 



Anxiety (*cases as per WHO situation report, 17th Feb

Vietnam 69% (16 cases*) 
Malaysia 66% (22 cases) 
Philippines 61% (3 cases) 
HK 55% (57 cases) 
Indonesia 50% (0 cases) 
SG 46% (75 cases) 
TH 46% (35 cases) 
Japan 44% (59 cases) 
SK 32% (30 cases) 

Immediately, it is clear there is a wide range of concern about the virus – and that the levels of concern have no correlation with the numbers of cases in each country or territory. 

Comparing the polling with the WHO’s 17th February situation report, we can see that the highest levels of concern are in Vietnam, which has, to date, experienced 16 cases of the virus. At the other end of the spectrum, South Korea has 30 known cases, yet only 32% of the population report that they are concerned. 

The economy 

There is widespread belief that the epidemic is having an impact on domestic and international economies. 



83% of Malaysians believe the outbreak is affecting the international economy. The least pessimistic nation is Japan, yet still with a hefty 58% believing there is an impact. This closely matches opinions of the impact on local economies. Malaysia (77%), Hong Kong (76%) and Singapore (73%) have the greatest perception of impact on the domestic economy; 57% in Japan and Indonesia say the same. 

Government action 

We asked people to rate their Government’s response to the crisis, which illuminated a vast disparity between countries and territories. 



Vietnamese citizens are happiest with their government’s response – 81% say the government has acted appropriately in addressing the virus. However, there is a general caution about critiquing the government in Vietnam that probably plays into this. 

In contrast, only 23% of Hong Kongers believe their government has acted appropriately. In fact, 73% of Hong Kong residents believe the government has acted insufficiently or not at all in response to the virus. Again, it is likely that extraneous factors are in play here. After months of protests, Hong Kongers’ faith in their government is in general at a low point.

We also asked how people would react to a blanket ban on flights from China until the mainland situation is under control. An overwhelming 84% of Asians would support this measure, in relatively even numbers across the region.  

On top of the news 

Singaporeans are paying most attention to the news and information about the virus (62%) while Japanese are paying the least attention (19%). This closely follow the level of concern, as one would expect. 

In terms of news coverage, Asians are largely following coronavirus news on television. TV is also seen as the most credible news source. The exception is tightly-controlled Singapore, where online/digital newspapers are being relied on most and government websites are seen as being the most credible news source. It is probably not a coincidence that the level of faith in the government’s crisis response and the reliance on government information are both high in the city state. 

While only 15% of those surveyed across the region said they view social media news/information sources as credible, this figure is double in Hong Kong (31%). 

Personal responsibility 

According to the survey, Asians are changing their habits to prevent infection. Most people reporting a new focus on washing hands, wearing face masks, avoiding crowded places and attending to personal health. Across the region23% say they are working from home more, the largest number being in Hong Kong (39%). 

Optimism is tough to come by 

We asked our respondents how they think the next month of this crisis will play out and there were stark differences between countries. 

Japan (85%), Hong Kong (72%), Singapore (64%) and Thailand (56%) believe the number of cases in their country/territory will rise in the coming month.  

There was more optimism in South Korea (26%), Indonesia (33%) and the Philippines (35%), with fewer people projecting increases.  

Vietnam (49%) and Malaysia (45%) are more evenly split on the prognosis. 

Some countries and organisations were better prepared for the coronavirus epidemic than others. But however prepared you are, public opinion has a life of its own. Working with governments and corporations, Blackbox and Toluna can help monitor crises so that decision makers have the best information they need to maintain confidence and calm. Are you ready for your next crisis? Contact us now to discuss how we can help you weather the next storm.