Risk communication, characterised as “the exchange of real-time information, advice and opinions between experts and people facing threats to their health, economic or social well-being”, functions to protect people by enabling them to make informed decisions against the risks . It requires various communication techniques including media and social media communications, mass communications and community engagement. Understanding people, such as their perception, concerns, beliefs as well as their knowledge and practices, is essential for successful risk communication. In an era of potential “infodemics”, the early identification and management of rumours and misinformation have also become important. As global connectivity increases, the risk of epidemics and pandemics also increases. In an interdependent world, public health incidents in one country can rapidly affect its neighbours and even trigger emergency situations in other continents – as seen during the Ebola epidemic in 2014-2016, Zika virus syndrome in 2015-2016, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic since 2019. Such public health emergencies have highlighted challenges and gaps in how risk communication is conducted .
Risk communication plays an essential role in protecting the public from health threats, and it requires a more evidence-based approach to further analyse its applicability. An existing intervention tends to be sided on risk communication implementer and often lacks feedback from the recipients. Mechanisms and methods for rapid monitoring and evaluation of emergency risk communication are necessary to improve the current practice . Therefore, this qualitative study will contribute to a better understanding of the gaps between emergency risk communication and laypersons’ perspectives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of this study is to explore and understand the impact of emergency risk communication used during the COVID-19 pandemic among ASEM Partners. The qualitative study will be conducted via online to gather perceptions from the general public in the selected ASEM Partners in regard to the information disclosed related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including how such information was disseminated as well as how it changed their perceptions towards COVID-19 and their related behaviour. Further investigation using face-to-face online interviews or telephone interviews will be considered if more in–depth investigation is beneficial to better understand the initial responses from the study. The outcomes of this qualitative study will be used to evaluate the current risk communication practices and they will serve as feedback to better achieve two-way risk communication. Possible methods for prompt monitoring and evaluation for risk communication interventions will also be sought. The ultimate goal of this study is to contribute towards building evidence-based risk communication, which increases ASEM Partners’ capacities to respond to public health emergencies in the future.
Approximately 3-4 ASEM Partners from Asia and Europe will be selected for this study. The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic in each country and their responses to the pandemic will be taken into account to have variety in the study. The questionnaires to evaluate risk communication during the COVID-19 pandemic will be developed and translated into the national languages. The format includes a combination of simple multiple–choice and extended open–ended questions. The target population for this study is residents aged between 18 and 60 from the capital cities of the selected ASEM Partners. Approximately 20-30 participants will be identified through local health authorities/academic institutions prior to the commencement of the study, and their responses will be gathered online. By obtaining lay perspectives from the participants, any existing gaps between the current risk communication practices and effective two-way risk communication can be identified.
Potential Public Health Benefit:
The findings from this study will be used to develop evidence-based two-way risk communication and/or to evaluate existing policies/protocols for risk communication for public health emergencies in the selected ASEM Partners.
 WHO explains that infodemics are an excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution. They can spread misinformation, disinformation and rumours during a health emergency. Infodemics can hamper an effective public health response and create confusion and distrust among people. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19