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Source: University of Canterbury

A global study is under way to compare how information about Covid-19 is delivered by authorities and the media, and how it is understood and used by people in different countries.

University of Canterbury (UC) population health expert Professor Philip Schluter is the New Zealand lead for the project, which aims to survey 1000 people in each of eight countries: Canada, United States, England, Hong Kong, Philippines, Switzerland, Belgium and New Zealand. The project will explore responses from the eight countries with different governance, sociocultural contexts and experiences of managing Covid-19.

“It’s very exciting, not only because it is a truly international study, but particularly in respect to the communications, media and social media aspects of it,” he says.

Well known in international public health, Professor Schluter contributes to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Thematic Platform for Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management Research Network, and is a contributing author for the upcoming book WHO Guidance on Research Methods for Health-Emergency and Disaster Risk Management.

The New Zealand Government earned praise for its quick action and clear communications on Covid-19 that achieved zero community transmission of new cases, however recent arrivals to the country have exposed flaws in the managed isolation/quarantine system.

“Two weeks ago I would have said that the trust in our government’s information was quite good. It has changed overnight and it is hard to predict where it will go, but I think we have fared better in New Zealand than other countries. My colleagues in the United States are quite fearful,” he says.

“On social media, I know that there has been a lot of information going around and a lot of misinformation about the origins of the pandemic, so the extent to which that is influencing people in different countries will be interesting.”

The global project, led by a research team based in Université de Sherbrooke Canada, is also exploring the psychosocial impacts of Covid-19. Professor Schluter will be able to compare this data to research gathered from Christchurch following the earthquakes, and to see whether Christchurch has been more impacted by Covid-19 than the rest of New Zealand.

In Christchurch, Professor Schluter is the academic lead on a wellbeing project started by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and subsequently passed on to and continued by the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB).

Professor Schluter has published over 245 peer-reviewed articles in national and international journals and provides expert review to multiple high-ranking international journals including Lancet, BMJ, Paediatrics, Psychological Methods, Addiction, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and Medical Journal of Australia. He has led or been a named investigator on 60 successful competitive grants in Australia and New Zealand totalling $25.8 million.