More than half of Australia’s medical practitioners (57.1%) are concerned about the threat of Coronavirus in Australia.

An EKAS Coronavirus survey which ran from February 17 to 21 showed 12.5% describe themselves as very concerned and a further 44.6% saying they are quite concerned about the outbreak which has had wide-ranging impacts in several countries already.

However, with Australia’s first confirmed community transmissions confirmed at the time of publishing, it is probably safe to assume that a greater number of respondents would now feel differently.

Nonetheless, as of February 21, there were 39.6% of respondents who stated they were not particularly concerned about Coronavirus’s impact in Australia, while 3.4% said they were not all concerned.

Males slightly over-indexed at either end of the spectrum. There were 13.8% of men who described themselves as very concerned compared to 11.8% of women. Similarly 5.4% of men compared to 1.9% of women stated they were not at all concerned about the virus’s spread.

Medical practitioners over 65 years of age had the highest percentage of respondents who were very concerned (21.5%).

In terms of whether they thought Coronavirus would realistically spread throughout Australia in a substantial way, just over one third of respondents (33.9%) said they believed it would, while the strong majority (66.1%) believed cases would remain confined to small numbers. 

Males and females correlated within one percentage point on their concerns, while younger medicos were much less concerned about Coronavirus’s spread. Some 28.3% of those aged up to 34 believed it would spread further. This contrasted with 37.4% of over 65s who felt the same.

The Government Response

While the Morrison government took a hiding for its bushfire response over the past few months, it seems Australian medical practitioners are much happier with their wary response to the Coronavirus outbreak. A majority of respondents (52.8%) rated the government’s performance in safeguarding Australians as either excellent (15%) or very good (37.8%). 

The largest individual cohort rated the performance as satisfactory (38.7%), while 7% described it as unsatisfactory and 1.5% labelled it poor. Males and females correlated within two percentage points on all responses, however males were more likely to rate the government’s performance as excellent, with 17.3% compared to 13.9% of women saying this. 

Older Australians were most likely to approve, with 60.2% of over 65s voting the performance excellent (17.6%) or very good (42.6%).

Medical respondents were also polled about the Australian Government’s decision to quarantine citizens returning from Hubei Province in China on Christmas Island and in remote parts of the Northern Territory. 

Once again the response was largely considered justified. There were 56.8% who called it an entirely necessary precaution and a further 35.2% who said it was an extreme measure but probably required. A smaller cohort of 6.7% said it was somewhat over the top and just 1.4% said it was a grossly excessive measure.

Perhaps tapping into the wisdom that children are prolific sharers of germs, when medicos were asked what they thought about state government health mandates that required children returning from mainland China to abstain from attending schools and childcare facilities for a period of a fortnight, the result was even more pronounced.

Two thirds of respondents (66.6%) said it was an entirely necessary precaution and an additional 28.8% said it was an extreme measure but probably required. Just 4.1% considered somewhat over the top and 0.5% said it was a grossly excessive measure.

In terms of cautiousness, women were more inclined to agree with risk averse tactics than men, with 69% compared to 63.7% of men considering it an entirely necessary precaution. Just 2.7% of women considered it slightly over the top (2.5%) or grossly excessive (0.2%), while 6.6% of men felt the same – 5.7% thought it over the top and 0.9% said it was grossly excessive.

At the coalface: GPs, Pharmacists and Coronavirus Strategies

To measure confidence in providing treatment, a subset of pharmacists and GPs were asked ‘If a patient in your centre presented symptoms associated with the Coronavirus, how confident are you in the action required to treat or refer the patient?’ 

More than half of the respondents (53.5%) were either very confident (12.4%) or quite confident (40.1%) in their ability to provide treatment. 

However, another 32.3% described themselves as only somewhat confident. There were 12.4% of respondents who said they were not very confident and 2.9% who said they weren’t at all confident of being able to provide treatment.

Males who were either very or quite confident of providing treatment numbered 54.5% compared to 50% of females. Conversely, males who weren’t very confident or not at all confident numbered 13.8% compared to 17.8% of females.

These respondents were further asked ‘If a patient in your centre presented symptoms associated with the Coronavirus, what would you do?’ 

Cautious action was the decision of the majority – there was a nearly event split between those who said they would isolate the patient and wait for health authorities to assess (40.6%) and those who would refer the patient to hospital or a GP (39.8%). 

There were a further 9.7% who said they would recommend the patient return home for a specialist consultation and 5.3% who said they would check the symptoms and treat the patient. The remaining 4.5% said they would recommend another course of action. 

Males were slightly more likely (6.3%) to take the higher risk option of directly treating the patient compared to females (4.6%).

The Australian Domestic Context

During the survey’s live period, respondents were asked to select the answer that covered the number of Australian cases of Coronavirus within the country. At the time of the survey there were 15 confirmed cases country-wide.

There were 57.3% who correctly said between 10 and 20 cases, while another 26.4% opted for under 10 cases. A further 10.4% posited between 20 and 50 cases and 2.6% thought there had been between 50 and 100 cases. The most alarmed 1.1% felt there were over 100 cases while a clearly relaxed 2.4% believed there were zero cases in Australia. 

Women were slightly more likely to choose the correct range (58.7% to 54.6%) and were also more likely to believe there were a higher number of cases – 4.8% believed there were over 50 cases compared to 2.1% of men. Males (3.2%) were slightly more likely to believe there were zero cases compared to females (1.8%).

Australia’s medical practitioners were also asked what they thought was most at risk owing to Coronavirus. In what was a fairly even spread, 38.8% said tourism, 30.8% said public health and 27.6% said the economy. There were 2.6% who believed other factors would be most greatly affected. 

Interestingly, males were much more likely to think the economy would fare worst of all, with 34.9% saying this, compared to 23.5% of females. The reverse applied regarding public health, with 34.8% of females opting for this compared to 25.2% of males.

Australia’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg evidently agress, saying on February 25 that, “The impact (of the Coronavirus) will be more significant than the bushfires and it plays out more broadly across the Australian economy.”

What the General Public Thinks

A corresponding EKAS survey that polled 1186 members of the general public revealed some interesting findings when compared to the medical fraternity. Although there was broad correlation across most survey questions there were some notable points of divergence. 

Perhaps most striking is that considerably more members of the general public (20.8%) declared themselves to be very concerned about Coronavirus compared to medical practitioners (12.5%) – perhaps a cause for relief for the non-medically trained. 

The medical fraternity also believe the economy is more likely to be hit hardest by Coronavirus, with 27.6% of their number compared to 22.9% of the general population saying this. The general population (42.6%), perhaps with greater concern for overseas holidays, regarded tourism as most at risk compared to the medical cohort (38.8%).

EKAS Key Findings

– Up to the final week of February, Australia’s medical professionals were relatively concerned about Coronavirus, although only about one in three thought it would spread substantially within Australia.

– Federal and state government quarantine measures are largely applauded by Australia’s medical cohort. A majority of respondents (52.8%) rated the government’s performance as either excellent (15%) or very good (37.8%).

– A majority of medical practitioners were roughly aware of how many cases of Coronavirus had been identified in Australia. There were 57.3% who correctly said between 10 and 20 cases had been identified at the time of the poll.

– Medical professionals see Coronavirus as a bigger threat to tourism (38.8%) than public health (30.8%) and the economy (27.6%).

– Male medical practitioners were slightly more likely to take his risk treatment options than women, and also slightly more likely to rate their ability to provide treatment to patients with Coronavirus.

– More members of the general public (20.8%) declared themselves to be very concerned about coronavirus compared to medical practitioners (12.5%).


This EKAS coronavirus survey polled 1534 medical professionals of whom 658 identified as male and 876 as female

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Ekas Research
Ekas Research