Wuhan residents are fervently searching online for information on face masks, delivery services and rumors related to the new coronavirus, according to a report from Baidu released on Tuesday.
As medical supplies run low and people confine themselves to their homes over a virus that has already left more than a hundred dead and thousands infected, people are turning to the internet for information.
Protective masks saw one of the biggest surges in searches, showing the item was in hot demand on January 22. That’s the day the city made face masks mandatory and the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced an emergency meeting. Since the outbreak began, face mask supplies have been running low.
Information on delivery services was the second most “baidued” query in the city, where an estimated 9 million people are stuck since the lockdown began.
And rumours about the virus came in third. Unverified information and conspiracy theories have blown up on Chinese social media (and on Twitter) with posts touting various “natural” treatments such as gargling salt water and eating garlic cloves.
With Google blocked in China, Baidu is by far the largest search engine in the country with about two-thirds of the market, according to StatCounter. So Baidu’s search results cover a significant portion of the population.
Most searches connected to the epidemic have been on the capacity for medical assistance (22 per cent of related searches), protective materials (20 per cent) and how the virus is progressing (17 per cent). China said it was sending 6,000 medical personnel from around the country to the epicentre of the outbreak, but a shortage of supplies like protective clothing has been slowing deployment.
Other search queries were related to solving the epidemic. Wuhanese baidued when new hospitals would be built, how often they should change their masks and how the vaccine development is progressing. Special attention has also been given to the SARS epidemic, the outbreak of a different coronavirus in 2002 and 2003 that resulted in 774 deaths.
The cause of the new virus has been drawing attention, too. Baidu’s data shows that searches on whether wild game is to blame for the coronavirus outbreak increased 190-fold. China banned wildlife trade on Monday after health officials linked exotic animal sales at a local seafood market to the spread of the disease. Ecommerce platforms also limited the sale of meat from certain animals.
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