Survey finds that 77 percent of people are concerned about the coronavirus outbreak and 50 percent have CHANGED hygiene behaviours

  • Increasing hand hygiene and avoiding travel are among actions taken to minimise risk
  • Leading hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley calls for continued hygiene awareness and advocates ‘destination handwashing’ to break the chain of infection
  • Health authorities and international experts are the most trusted sources of information
  • More fact-based information to debunk myths surrounding the outbreak is needed

A large portion of the population – as much as 50% – say that they have changed one or more behaviours to cope with the threat of COVID-19, including increasing handwashing and sanitising as well as avoiding public places and cutting back on travel. The findings are part of a new multi-national public opinion poll by Harris Interactive and RB, the maker of Dettol and Lysol.


The survey showed that:

54% handwash more often

44% avoid crowds

41% use hand-sanitiser more often

34% wear masks more often

32% stay home more often

31% avoid travel


The vast majority of people (95%) are aware of the virus outbreak, but the levels of concern about the personal risk from infection differ according to geography.  Globally, 66% of respondents said that are worried for their family and their own safety. The survey revealed that countries closer to the epicentre of the virus outbreak, including India, Malaysia and Thailand and China, expressed the highest levels of concern about contracting the virus (92%, 91%, 86% and 84% respectively).  These countries also report the highest levels of personal actions taken to prevent exposure to infection such as handwashing.

British and German respondents appear to be the least concerned about the virus but many still report modifying their behaviours such as handwashing (35% UK, 40% Germany), using hand sanitisers more often (26% UK, 26% Germany) or wearing masks (6% UK, 5% Germany). Globally, the majority of people believe that good hygiene will protect them, especially in the countries with highest levels of COVID-19 infection.

“This survey shows that while concern about the novel coronavirus is high, it is encouraging to see that people are already adapting their hygiene behaviours such as handwashing,” said Dr Lisa Ackerley, a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner and Hygiene Expert.  “Not only will this help to protect against coronavirus infection, but the simple action of hand hygiene at key moments helps guard against other respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.”

The survey found some differences in attitudes and behaviours between gender, with women (57%) more likely than men (51%), to have adopted increased handwashing and hand sanitising behaviours.  Older respondents, those of 65+ years who tend to be most at risk of complications from infections, were less likely to say they had changed their handwashing behaviour.

Dr Ackerley also advocates for the concept of ‘destination handwashing’ that centres around washing your hands when you arrive at a destination to help prevent the spread of infection.  “When you arrive home, at work, at a restaurant, or at the gym, these are moments to trigger reminders for handwashing,” she said.  “Simply keeping your hands away from your face when travelling is also a useful tip to reduce the risk of transferring viruses from dirty hands to the eyes, nose or mouth.”

The global spread of the novel strain of coronavirus (named SARS-Cov-2) has led to an epidemic of a different kind; the spreading of inaccurate news about the virus has been called an ‘infodemic’ by the World Health Organisation.[i]

With so much information about the global health emergency, there is also an increasing risk of misinformation or the proliferation of myths about how consumers can combat the virus.  There is clear need to make sure that information is accurate and from trusted sources.  The survey showed most people turn to international and local health authorities as their most trusted source of information on COVID-19, followed by international and local news outlets.

The survey is the latest in a programme of efforts to support the fight against the spread of the virus and to increase knowledge for consumers worldwide.  RB recently announced two major donations; £5.5 million in cash and hygiene products to China through its Dettol brand and additional RMB £550,000 cash donation to support expectant mothers in Hubei Province through its infant nutrition MJN business.

“We encourage good hygiene practices to break the chain of infection at all times, but it is vital to increase awareness during times of increased concern or when new outbreaks such as COVID-19 occur,” said Dr Bruce Charlesworth, Chief Medical Officer for RB.

The survey was conducted with 11,000 adults across 11 countries:  Australia, China, Germany, India, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States. The online survey with ten questions was fielded from 6-11 February 2020.

[i] Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Situation Report – 13. Available at: Last accessed 17.02.20

Source: RB