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Holding a stigmatizing attitude at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak: A cross-sectional survey

Publication date: 

4 Oct 2021


Br J Health Psychol 2021


Smith LE, Potts HWW, Amlȏt R, Fear NT, Michie S, Rubin GJ

Publication type: 



Abstract Objectives To identify the prevalence of a stigmatizing attitude towards people of Chinese origin at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK population and investigate factors associated with holding the stigmatizing attitude. Design Online cross-sectional survey conducted 10–13 February 2020 (n = 2006, people aged 16 years or over and living in the UK). Methods We asked participants to what extent they agreed it was best to avoid areas heavily populated by Chinese people because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Survey materials also asked about: worry, perceived risk, knowledge, information receipt, perception of government response to COVID-19, and personal characteristics. We ran binary logistic regressions to investigate associations between holding a stigmatizing attitude, personal characteristics, and psychological and contextual factors. Results 26.1% people (95% CI 24.2–28.0%, n = 524/2006) agreed it was best to avoid areas heavily populated by Chinese people. Holding a stigmatizing attitude was associated with greater worry about COVID-19, greater perceived risk of COVID-19, and poorer knowledge about COVID-19. Conclusions At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large percentage of the UK public endorsed avoiding areas in the UK heavily populated by people of Chinese origin. This attitude was associated with greater worry about, and perceived risk of, the COVID-19 outbreak as well as poorer knowledge about COVID-19. At the start of future novel infectious disease outbreaks, proactive communications from official sources should provide context and facts to reduce uncertainty and challenge stigmatizing attitudes, to minimize harms to affected communities.