Going viral: public reaction to Coronavirus

January 31, 2020

For those who don’t know - Coronavirus is an illness that causes respiratory infections that range from the common cold to SARS. The current virus in the news is a new strain - originating in Wuhan, China - with over 8,000 reported cases in mainland worldwide. 

Understanding the role emotion plays in different aspects of their lives is at the heart of everything we do and so we wanted to know exactly how people feel about Coronavirus - and whether they believe they’re at risk. 

Coronavirus - graph 2-3

From 3,849 bees across six countries

Our bees - or users - across the world shared how they feel about Coronavirus and - using their own words - the most common terms included ‘scared/scary’, ‘worried’, ‘fear’ and ‘concerned’. In fact, 63% say they’re ‘really scared about it’. This is despite the fact that only a third of them expect to be personally affected by it. 

Screenshot 2020-01-29 at 16.50.40

From 3,849 bees across six countries

The fear surrounding the threat is not necessarily related to how likely they think they or someone close to them will actually get the virus. Is this down to media involvement, or is it merely a natural reaction?

However, when you separate this between Western countries (UK, US and France) with Eastern countries (China, Thailand, Japan) there is a marked difference in attitudes. 

Coronavirus - graph 1-3

From 3,849 bees across six countries

Understandably, Western countries are less scared than their counterparts across the world - but interestingly, very few people in the UK, US and France actually believe they’ll be affected by the virus. Are Western consumers more swayed by the media - or is a potential threat almost more fear-inducing than an existing one?

Coronavirus - graph 3

How is Coronavirus impacting consumer industries?

Here are some of the top headlines:

Sorry, we’re closed. Shops, restaurants and tourist attractions are all temporarily closing their doors in China in hopes to contain the spread of the disease. The likes of KFC, Starbucks, IKEA, GAP, McDonald’s - and more! - are all shutting down until the threat reduces, causing havoc for businesses during one of the most profitable times of year - the Lunar New Year season.

Hold my beer… When you hear Coronavirus, do you think of the beer brand Corona? Well, unfortunately a lot of people do - searches for ‘corona beer virus’ skyrocketed after the virus hit the news. From Jan 18-26, Google searches went up 2,300% globally. Other terms that increased in popularity included ‘beer virus’, ‘beer coronavirus’. At least we can finally put to rest the debate over whether all PR is good PR.

Timing is everything. Coincidentally - or perhaps strategically? - Netflix has just launched its new docuseries ‘Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak’ that looks into historical outbreaks and pandemics. Could this simply increase fear over Coronavirus - despite the virus not yet rated as a pandemic?


Streetbees’ data shows that mood and context drives 75% of consumer behaviour - we know this because we track real life moments throughout the year, all shared in their own words. If you’re interested in finding out more about the role of emotion in your customers’ decisions, contact us.