Panic Searching: How We're Searching During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is unsurprisingly the biggest word on everyone’s lips right now. But how do our concerns about this global crisis translate when we look at how people are searching online? We review some of the biggest trending topics and key Google searches relating to the virus in the UK and the US right now to see what they say about our behaviours and thought patterns.


The emergence of coronavirus panic and curiosity

At the top of the pile of the most common searches relating to Coronavirus in the last week are the questions surrounding the basic information surrounding the virus. These include how it started, what the symptoms are and, at the top of the list in the UK, how many cases there are.



Google Trends data ranks searches on a scale of 0-100 based on a topic’s search in relation to all searches on all topics. What is interesting about the trending on the coronavirus searches is that, although it has been a big topic in the news since mid-January, it was not until around the 2nd March that searches in the UK went above a ranking of 25, with the spike reaching 90 on the 12th March, which was the day Boris Johnson announced in his statement that the virus was now a pandemic.



This suggests that people were not too concerned about the virus until the government started taking it more seriously and communicating their concerns with the public that it would significantly affect the UK. The search interest ranking also peaked again to 100 on the 16th March, which was when the government intervened in our daily lives to prevent the spread of the virus, by recommending social distancing measures and working from home wherever possible.


People looking to take action

During an uncertain time like a pandemic, people often want to know what they need to or should being doing next. This is reflected in the top ‘what to’ coronavirus questions in the UK, which vary from what to do if you have the virus to opportunists searching for what to invest in now that the stock markets are mostly unstable.

A particularly telling although unsurprising search is ‘what to stockpile in an emergency’. We have all seen the images of empty supermarket shelves in recent weeks and this just confirms that people are ignoring the strongly worded advice from the government to stop buying more than is needed in favour of panic stockpiling supplies.



The importance of prevention measures

Prevention method terminology has also seen big spikes in search history in recent weeks. In the UK, three of the key topics being searched have been ‘hand sanitiser’, ‘face mask’ and ‘hand washing’. 

Whilst all of these methods are important in preventing the spread of the virus, search engines show that the item sought after far beyond the others is hand sanitiser which, on multiple occasions in recent weeks, has been searched ten times as much as the other terms, perhaps as people look to buy online what they can’t find in the shops.



The rise of economic concerns 

Search engine data also reflects many of society’s most pressing concerns surrounding the virus. Namely, the economy and education. In the US, search queries relating to the stock market and unemployment benefits have rocketed as well as many states, particularly towards the west coast searching about school closures. 



Similarly, in the UK, terms such as ‘key workers’ and ‘universal credit’ are rising in usage and it is highly likely that more education-related queries will be springing up in the coming days following the PM’s announcement to close schools.


The concern for our animal friends

Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, one priority Google search engines have proved is how much people care about protecting man’s best friend from Coronavirus. One of the top queries in the UK this week has been ‘can dogs get coronavirus’, gaining a 1oo ranking in terms of search popularity.

Thankfully, at this stage the research says there have been no confirmed cases of dogs contracting the virus, but if you do catch it yourself then it is a good idea to limit your contact with your furry friends the same way you would with other humans and make sure to wash your hands before and after looking after them.



Whilst it is hard to predict what is to come next for our global community, having a look at how people are searching about coronavirus around the world gives a fascinating insight into people’s key concerns at this time. In the meantime, stay safe, stay indoors (if you can) and keep your hands clean!