Background: The extent to which people implement government-issued protective measures is critical in preventing further spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Our study aimed to describe the public belief in the effectiveness of protective measures, the reported implementation of these measures, and to identify communication channels used to acquire information on COVID-19 in European countries during the early stage of the pandemic.
Methods and findings: An online survey available in multiple languages was disseminated starting on March 19th, 2020. After five days, we computed descriptive statistics for countries with more than 500 respondents. Each day, we assessed enacted community containment measures by stage of stringency (I-IV). In total, 9,796 adults responded, of whom 8,611 resided in the Netherlands (stage III), 604 in Germany (stage III), and 581 in Italy (stage IV). To explore possible dynamics as containment strategies intensified, we also included 1,365 responses submitted during the following week. Participants indicated support for governmental measures related to avoiding social gatherings, selective closure of public places, and hand hygiene and respiratory measures (range for all measures: 95.0%-99.7%). Respondents from the Netherlands less frequently considered a complete social lockdown effective (59.2%), compared to respondents in Germany (76.6%) or Italy (87.2%). Italian residents applied enforced social distancing measures more frequently (range: 90.2%-99.3%, German and Dutch residents: 67.5%-97.0%) and self-initiated hygienic and social distancing behaviors (range: 36.3%-96.6%, German and Dutch residents: 28.3%-95.7%). Respondents reported being sufficiently informed about the outbreak and behaviors to avoid infection (range: 90.2%-91.1%). Information channels most commonly reported included television newspapers, official health websites, and social media. One week later, we observed no major differences in submitted responses.
Conclusions: During the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, belief in the effectiveness of protective measures among survey respondents from three European countries was high and participants reported feeling sufficiently informed. In March 2020, implementation of measures differed between countries and were highest among respondents from Italy, who were subjected to the most stringent lockdown measures and greatest COVID-19 burden in Europe during this period.