In late December 2019, infectious pneumonia resulting from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged in Wuhan, China [1
]. By 11 February 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) named the disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The disease was declared a global pandemic, presenting a major threat to public health worldwide. Recent studies concerning the origin of the outbreak of COVID-19 claim that the virus was synthetically created in a laboratory. Indeed, even though its origin is not completely understood, it was shown that the bat coronavirus contributed 96% of its genome to SARS-CoV-2, thus suggesting a bat origin and a transmission to humans through an intermediate host [2
COVID-19 presents itself in a spectrum of clinical manifestations, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, a loss of taste and smell, and gastrointestinal issues. COVID-19 is highly infectious, and most individuals are susceptible to infection; however, older individuals and patients with underlying conditions are at greater risk. Indeed, many reports dismissed the myth that children cannot catch COVID-19. Usually, paediatric patients with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and will recover within 1 to 2 weeks because of active innate immune response and healthier respiratory tracts [3
]. Respiratory droplets and contact transmission are the main routes of transmission for the person-to-person spread of COVID-19 [6
Non-pharmaceutical interventions have been put in place by the governments of many countries around the world to try to limit the spread of the virus and reduce transmission. Such interventions include the implementation of ‘lockdowns’ in certain countries, the quarantine of individuals exposed to the virus, isolation of any confirmed or suspected cases and of those deemed a ‘close contact’ of an individual, and sensitisation of the general population to control measures to limit the spread. Control measures include mask-wearing, social distancing, and regular handwashing; information on which has been shared by the World Health Organisation [7
As of July 2021, there have been over 197 million confirmed COVID-19 patients in over 210 countries, 298,000 of which have been in Ireland. There have been a total of 4.21 million deaths worldwide, 5035 being in Ireland [8
]. The multi-faceted approach to control COVID-19 followed in Ireland involves measures to limit the spread in the community and institutional settings, test and trace suspected close contacts, ensure adequate healthcare to those becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19, and limit the financial burden on individuals and businesses. Public health advice issued to the republic of Ireland by the government and Health Service Executive (HSE) includes emphasis on frequent handwashing, appropriate respiratory etiquette, and maintaining a two-metre distance between others. The need to avoid touching one’s eyes and mouth is also highlighted, as well as the use of wearing face masks in indoor settings and on public transport. The success of the battle against the disease depends on public adherence to infective control measures. If the virus is not given the opportunity to spread, it will not spread [9
Public adherence to the control measures is vital in the limitation of the spread of the virus, and their adherence is greatly influenced and affected by their level of knowledge, risk perceived, and practices towards the COVID-19 pandemic [10
]. The level of knowledge individuals have regarding COVID-19 can lead to better protection and promotion of their health [11
]. A high level of knowledge regarding the aforementioned information on the infection is determined by effective communication between health authorities, such as National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the HSE in Ireland, the WHO, the Irish government, and the general population [10
The perception of an individual’s susceptibility to the disease and the perceived severity of COVID-19 will influence the preventative actions taken by individuals. An understanding of the severity would mean individuals perceive that they are susceptible to COVID-19, and that the contraction and spread of the disease would have severe consequences [11
]. A correct level of knowledge will highlight the individual’s perception of factual versus fictional information spread regarding COVID-19. The right perception regarding misconceptions around COVID-19 will encourage and promote better practices of the Irish public towards COVID-19 [10
The correct preventative practices taken are influenced by the effective communication of practices, including handwashing etiquette, disinfection of surfaces, avoiding touching one’s face and eyes, mask etiquette, physical distancing, non-essential travel, as well as a good level of knowledge of COVID-19 [10
To understand the level of knowledge and perceived risk of COVID-19 amongst the Irish population, knowing where they trust to actively go and seek out new and updated information on COVID-19 is important. Effective means of sourcing and providing the information is important for healthcare professionals and government officials to effectively communicate with the public. Choosing credible information sources ensures individuals acquire accurate and up-to-date information of COVID-19 [12
Success in the battle against COVID-19 depends on public adherence to control measures. Their adherence is greatly affected by their knowledge, perceptions, and practices; therefore, the aim of the study was to assess and understand the knowledge, perceptions, practices, and trusted information sources of COVID-19 among the Irish residents. This study will help to identify the common practices of the Irish population with regards to COVID-19 and identify any common misconceptions.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Questionnaire Design
To gain an insight into the level of COVID-19 related knowledge, risk perceptions perceived, practices performed, and trusted information sources amongst the Irish population, a quantitative survey was performed by means of an online questionnaire. It was important to ensure the questions were short and appropriately worded so that the various demographics had the ability to fully understand what was being asked and to receive sufficient quantitative data. Short and simple yet effective questions also ensured a greater participant response, as the elimination of long-winded questions could result in many incomplete responses. To minimize the possibility of the participant selecting a random answer, the choices of “I Don’t Know” or “Not Sure” were added to some questions.
The literature review of various published scientific articles from different countries determining similar questions aided the development of the questions for the different sections, including articles on Medical Students from Jordan [10
], Nigerians [13
], Chinese residents [14
], and Latinx farmworker/non-farmworker families in North Carolina [11
]. A six-page, 47 multiple choice questionnaire was developed, modified, simplified, and tested.
The questionnaire was divided into six sections:, (1) Screening Question: one question to ensure participants are from the Republic of Ireland; (2) Demographic Characteristics: to determine the socio-demographic factors of the participant, such as age, gender, level of education, relationship status, occupational status, and gross income level; (3) COVID-19 Level of Knowledge: 11 multiple choice questions to determine the level of knowledge surrounding COVID-19 of the participants; (4) Risk Perceptions: 11 statement questions followed by Likert-scale type answers including a neutral response to determine the risk perceived of COVID-19 among participants; (5) Practices: 15 frequency Likert scale questions to establish the COVID-19 related safety measures undertaken by the population; (6) Trusted Information Sources: one question to find out which of the nine listed information sources the participants are most likely to utilize to seek out new, updated, and accurate information on COVID-19.
Furthermore, there was an option to decline participation from the survey at any point during the study. Adequate information was given at the beginning of the survey detailing the purpose of the study, and questions were simplified for a greater understanding from the participant’s point of view.
TU Dublin is a data controller under the Data Protection Acts 2003 and General Data Protection Regulation 2018. Any information provided is treated with strict confidentiality and all data are anonymised prior to data analysis.
2.2. Data Collection
The advantages of the online survey are not limited to flexibility, convenience, speed, timeliness, and ease of data management. With the advancement of technology, an online survey is used more frequently and better accepted by researchers than ever before [15
]. Furthermore, due to the pandemic, the distribution of the survey was limited to electronic means only. Social media is capable of opening up a new era in social and behavioural science research [17
]. These present-day communication platforms provide the ability to examine social data on a diverse theme, on an enormous scale, and over short periods of time [18
]. The online survey contained 47 questions and was completed with the restrictions that the participant was over the age of 18 and resided in Ireland. The online survey was distributed on multiple social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
2.3. Data Analysis
Once the survey was complete, the results were filtered to only display complete responses, and incomplete responses were disregarded. The data were then exported from survey monkey to MS Excel, where they were coded. Data were then run through SPSS where they were compiled, summarised, and analysed. The means, standard deviations, percentages, pass rates, and p-values were calculated. The demographic characteristics of the population were compared against their level of knowledge, practices and risk perceptions, and any statistical significance was calculated. The effect of socio-demographic characteristics of respondents on their level of knowledge, risk perceptions, and practices of COVID-19 was analysed by calculating the percentage and mean score with Chi-square (x2) test for each. Mann–Whitney U test was employed to determine the statistical significance of the residence of the population, while the Kruskal–Wallis test was utilised to determine the statistical significance of age, gender, place of residence, highest level of education obtained, relationship status, occupational status, and gross annual income. Finally, the linear relationship between the level of knowledge of COVID-19 and the COVID-19 practices of the population was calculated using Spearman rho statistics to determine if there is a correlation between a good level of knowledge and practices of COVID-19.
4. Conclusions and Recommendation
Overall, the population of the Republic of Ireland shows high levels of knowledge, a correct perception of risks, and good practices related to COVID-19. The high level of knowledge is reflected by the most trusted source of information being health organisations. The understanding of the severity of COVID-19 would mean that individuals perceive they are susceptible to the disease, and a correct perception towards COVID-19 encourages good practices. Good perceptions are reflected, with the majority believing COVID-19 is more severe than the flu, showing the population is able to seek out factual information from myths. The change of learning and the reduction of general hospital visits have an impact on young residents because they have less time and fewer patients to work with. On the other hand, the reduction of the visits’ number led to an increase in challenging medical scenarios (severe forms of cancers, more difficult surgical procedures, etc.). In addition, it has been observed an increased number of televisits and webinars both changed the way of learning and teaching in the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerningly, over half of the population perceived COVID-19 having a negative effect on their mental health, showing that more support services are required in this area. The population has strong self-efficacy, which is shown in the good pass rate of COVID-19 practices. Demographics in relation to knowledge showed that females and employed individuals have a higher level of knowledge compared to males and unemployed individuals, with females also having better COVID-19 related practices. A significant correlation between the level of knowledge and practices of COVID-19 implies that the higher the level of knowledge, the better the practices. So, any increase in the level of knowledge will render the population more likely to take better preventative practices. The Irish residents should continue to perform the preventative practices of COVID-19 to protect themselves and others, as well as keep up to date with any new information. The Irish government should continue to inform the public and encourage protective practices.