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Perceptions, risk and understandings of the COVID-19 pandemic in urban South Africa.



How people perceive the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and understand their risk can influence their health, behaviours and overall livelihood. The disease's novelty and severity have elicited a range of attitudes and perspectives countrywide, which consequently influence the public's adherence to public health prevention and treatment guidelines.


To investigate perceptions, experiences and knowledge on COVID-19 in a community-based cohort study.


Adults living in Soweto in South Africa's Gauteng province during the first six weeks of the national lockdown regulations (i.e. Alert Level 5 lockdown from end of March to beginning of May 2020).


Participants completed a series of surveys and answered open-ended questions through telephonic interviews (n = 391). We queried their perceptions of the origins of COVID-19, understandings of the disease, personal and communal risks and its relations with the existing disease burden.


Findings from our sample of 391 adults show that perceptions and knowledge of COVID-19 vary across several demographic characteristics. We report moderate levels of understanding about COVID-19, prevention methods and risk, as well as exposure to major physical, psychosocial and financial stressors. Depressive symptoms, perceived infection risk and concern about COVID-19 significantly predicted COVID-19 prevention knowledge.


Public health communication campaigns should focus on continuing to improve knowledge and reduce misinformation associated with the virus. Policymakers should consider the mental health- and non-health-related impact of the pandemic on their citizens in order to curb the pandemic in a manner that maximises well-being.

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