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Letters Coronavirus coverage

Covid-19: a digital epidemic

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 02 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m764

Rapid Response:

Re: Covid-19: a digital epidemic

Dear Editor

With the rapidly increasing number of covid-19 cases and deaths in February in Wuhan, China, an epidemic of fear arose, especially with the lockdown of the city. Rumors were widely spread across the country, causing anxiety and depression due to the easy access of self-media and instant messenger. [1] Now the global pandemic of covid-19 causes social panic in many countries. [2] It seems that social media or, to be more specific, self-media with unfiltered or unbalanced information aggravate the panic. However, with the transparent data release on covid-19 cases and government social media sending out guidance for protection from the disease to the public, chaos begins to subside in China.

By learning from the SARS outbreak, transparency and rapid response of the government lead to social stability and concealing leads to panic. [3] During the covid-19 crisis, the Chinese government rapidly process information and provide guidance for the public on social media, which helps citizens to understand the government's action and calms them down. Also, live stream of the construction of the Huoshenshan and Leishenshan Hospitals with the whole people discussion in a relaxed atmosphere not only showed the determination and confidence of the Chinese government in controlling the epidemic but also helped regaining people’s faith. So, the leadership of government's social media plays a key role in controlling the epidemic of fear.

At the same time, medical staff should make full use of the positive impact of social media on public health as well as protect themselves from getting infected during clinical practice. Due to lockdown, lots of patients with chronic diseases lose their normal access to health care. Medical staff have gradually realized that social media could be one of the best ways to gain access to their patients. In our institution, medical experts started online social media-based nonprofit consultations aiming to give health advice during the covid-19 pandemic, with favorable social feedback. And it’s proved to be practical in UK as some diabetes clinicians set up social media account to help alleviate patients’ fears by providing medical advice. [4] For orthopaedic surgeons, patients with pain due to acute or chronic injury to spine, hip, knee or ankle are common in outpatient services. During lockdown, these patients may profit from online consulting with medical experts. In our institution, senior experts have live stream with patients providing free “face-to-face” online consulting.

In fighting the covid-19 pandemic, social media should not be the place for controversy, but for sharing and providing guidance for the public. The main goal is to take down the virus and get back to normal life.

[1]. Gao J, Zheng P, Jia Y, Chen H, Mao Y, Chen S, et al. Mental health problems and social media exposure during COVID-19 outbreak[J]. PloS one. 2020,15(4):e0231924.
[2]. Kadam AB, Atre SR. Social media panic and COVID-19 in India[J]. Journal of travel medicine. 2020.
[3]. Zhong N, Zeng G. What we have learnt from SARS epidemics in China[J]. BMJ. 2006,333(7564):389-91.
[4]. Iacobucci G. Covid-19: diabetes clinicians set up social media account to help alleviate patients' fears[J]. Bmj. 2020,368:m1262.

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 April 2020
Huilin Yang
Orthopaedic Surgeon, PhD, MD
Jun Zou, Dawei Song, Junjie Niu, Tao Feng, Jinning Wang, Jiale Qian
The First Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University
Suzhou, China