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Countries with weaker handwashing culture more exposed to COVID-19: UK study

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Countries where people do not have a habit of washing their hands automatically tend to have a much higher exposure to coronavirus, according to a new UK study released on Tuesday.

University of Birmingham researchers have discovered that a large number of people do not have a habit of automatic handwashing after using the toilet in China (77 per cent), Japan (70 per cent), South Korea (61 per cent) and the Netherlands (50 per cent) in top rung, with India at number 10 with 40 per cent.

Others in the top 10 include Thailand (48 per cent), Kenya (48 per cent), Italy (43 per cent), Malaysia (43 per cent) and Hong Kong (40 per cent).

In contrast, at the other end of the scale, the UK and the US frequencies are 25 per cent and 23 per cent correspondingly.

The best handwashing culture is observed in Saudi Arabia, where only 3 per cent of people do not wash their hands habitually.

"Countries where people do not have a habit of washing their hands automatically tend to have a much higher exposure to COVID-19.

"In the absence of a cure or vaccine, the current outbreak obliges humanity to find ways of reducing the potential risk of infection," said Professor Ganna Pogrebna from Birmingham Business School who published the study along with Dr Alex Kharlamov from Birmingham Law School in 'Regulation & Governance'.

"Frequent handwashing with soap for at least 20 seconds is widely advised as a preventive measure against COVID-19. It is possible to quickly influence individual hygiene behaviour in the short term, but changing handwashing culture in a particular country or globally is a much more difficult task," said Pogrebna.

In 2015, the BVA France Sarl, Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research and GALLUP International published data on human handwashing habits from 63 countries around the globe by asking people to agree or disagree with the following statement: "Washing your hands with soap after using a toilet is something you do automatically".

Professor Pogrebna and Dr Kharlamov used the dataset of 64,002 respondents as a proxy of handwashing culture to explore the impact of this culture on the COVID-19 outbreak magnitude in their research paper titled 'The Impact of Cross-Cultural Differences in Handwashing Patterns on the COVID-19 Outbreak Magnitude'.

Dr Kharlamov said: "Many factors may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 around the globe, but handwashing culture alone appears to be an important factor in explaining why some counties have been hit harder by the outbreak.

"Time will tell whether the challenges posed by COVID-19 will help to make handwashing culture around the globe more unified. However, the data adjusted for cultural differences and differences in economic development between countries - demonstrated a very strong correlation between lack of handwashing culture and exposure to the virus".

Meanwhile, the number of deaths from the coronavirus cases stood at 16,961 across the world, according to multiple reports.

More than 386,350 declared cases have been registered in 175 countries and territories since the pandemic first emerged in China in December.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, March 24 2020. 21:14 IST