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Warwick economists help inform Italian public health guidance on coronavirus

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Warwick economists help inform Italian public health guidance on coronavirus

A team of international researchers including economists from the University of Warwick has helped to inform public health messaging adopted by government officials in Italy to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Chris Roth, Dr Thiemo Fetzer and Dr Stefano Caria were part of the ‘COVID-19 International Behavioural Science Working Group’, a team of researchers convened by the Municipality of Rome to evaluate public understanding of the Italian government’s health messaging about the crisis.

The research team implemented one of the first nationally representative surveys about the coronavirus crisis in March 2020 to determine how Italian citizens were responding to the government’s guidance, including avoiding social gatherings and only leaving home for essential activities.

The survey responses showed that public health messaging is being heard. Except for slightly lower compliance among young adults, all demographic groups reported that they understood and followed the guidance to keep themselves and others safe from the virus. Over 93% of those surveyed said they endorsed the public health recommendations of a general curfew, avoiding social gatherings and avoiding handshakes. Closing non-essential shops was slightly less popular but still endorsed by 89% of respondents.

Even respondents who said they distrusted the government or believed it may not be disseminating correct information, reported that they were acting in accordance with the guidance, with average compliance levels of between 82% and 92%.

However, the findings revealed that quarantine had serious effects on the population’s mental health, with respondents reporting increased boredom, anxiety and loneliness. While women, those with poor health and older adults reported most anxiety, overall anxiety levels were high for every demographic group. As a result, the team recommended that government communications should move from explaining to citizens that they should stay at home to suggesting what they can do at home to make isolation easier as the pandemic continues, such as online classes, virtual social interactions and exercise routines.

The research has helped to inform official communications from the Municipality of Rome to support citizens to isolate and contain the spread of COVID-19. The Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, wrote to thank the researchers for their work in ‘encouraging citizens to adopt behaviours useful to limit the contagion of the epidemic’.

The findings and recommendations were also shared with the Italian Ministry of Health, who asked the research team to develop some public communication guidelines. In addition, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Office in Rome used evidence from the study to inform the development of communications materials around the pandemic.

Find out more about the research:

Evaluating COVID-19 Public Health Messaging in Italy: Self-Reported Compliance and Growing Mental Health Concerns

About the Authors

  • Dr Stefano Caria is Associate Professor in the Department of Economics. His current research includes work on Syrian refugees in Jordan, childcare support for mothers in Egypt, employment incentives in Ethiopia and urban poverty traps in Bangladesh.
  • Dr Thiemo Fezter is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and a Visiting Fellow at the LSE. Thiemo is a member of CAGE Research Centre and Research Theme Leader for Political Economy. His research has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian, Foreign Policy, Le Monde and the Financial Times.
  • Dr Chris Roth is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics. His research interests are in the fields of beliefs and attention; psychology and economics; political economy and macro expectations.

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