Tropical Geography ›› 2020, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (3): 375-385.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003244

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Spatial-Temporal Distribution and Influence Mechanism of Internet Public Attention on COVID-19: A Case Study on the Baidu Searching Index

Sun Yuting1(), Xiao Fan1, Zhou Yong1, Tian Guangzeng2()   

  1. 1.a. Department of Bio-Industry Communication and Development; b. Department of Geography; c. College of Social Sciences, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10617, China
    2.College of Tourism and Geography, Shaoguan University, Shaoguan 512005, China
  • Received:2020-03-20 Revised:2020-05-05 Online:2020-05-31 Published:2020-06-30
  • Contact: Tian Guangzeng;


The rapid spatial spread of the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) in China during the Spring Festival has seriously endangered human health and garnered tremendous public attention via the Internet and social media. Although public attention plays a critical role in risk surveillance and epidemic prevention, there is a lack of comprehensive discussion related to its spatial-temporal differences and influence mechanism. This study focused on Internet public attention on COVID-19 using spatial analysis, spatial-temporal visualization, regression analysis of panel data, and other methods to investigate provincial spatial-temporal differences and possible influence factors of public attention in China from January 9 to March 2, 2020. In terms of data collection, the Baidu Index (BDI) was used as the measurement of public attention, disease-related data were recorded from the National Health Commission of PRC, and the population movement of Wuhan was based on geographic services of Baidu Qianxi. As per the findings 1) The spatial distribution pattern of public attention can be described as “large differences between east and west regions, higher in coastal areas than inland areas, and consistent with the areas of epidemic distribution.” In terms of temporal characteristics, there was a significant increase in the daily average of public attention in all provinces after the “Wuhan Lockdown,” and the same distribution pattern of overall levels of public attention was observed before and after the “Wuhan Lockdown.” Public attention reached its peak during the Spring festival and subsequently experienced a fluctuating decline with the periodic routine (incubation-outbreak) of the development of the epidemic. The themes of public attention moved from “searching information on related viruses in the early stage”, to “focusing on clinical diagnosis” and “the recent status of the development of the epidemic.” 2) Public attention is influenced by daily dynamic levels, including disease factor and population movement related to Wuhan, and economic/social development levels with fixed regional features. 3) Different phases of the issue—attention cycle receive different levels of attention. The effect of influence mechanisms on public attention before and after the virus outbreak is significantly different. Prior to the outbreak, information disease-related factors of confirmed cases and deaths could increase the public’s awareness and satisfy their fact exploration. After the outbreak, public attention was focused on population outflows from Wuhan. Compared to the first stage, the effect of regional factors on public attention increased after the outbreak, indicating that as the epidemic becomes gradually controlled, regional factor may have a sustainable and stable impact on public attention. 4) Media technology indirectly affects the public’s searching behavior during the epidemic. Higher amounts of available online information correspond to less searching behavior as the public becomes more informed. 5) The announcement of the “Wuhan Lockdown” did not cause a massive population movement as compared to the travel rush (Chunyun) during the Spring Festival. This indicates that the role of the incubation period may have had a negative impact of population movement on public attention before the epidemic outbreak, and that the media agenda and intervention from state authorities could arouse public attention on population outflow from Wuhan after the outbreak. Based on the findings, it is suggested that the government should focus on public searching volumes and enforce timely measures to surpass the speed of epidemic spread.

Key words: COVID-19, public attention, infectious disease, spatial-temporal distribution, searching index

CLC Number: 

  • K902