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Coronavirus update: Handwashing research highlights countries that could be at more risk of COVID-19

Handwashing culture appears to be an important factor in the spread of Coronavirus globally.

Countries, where people do not have a habit of washing their hands automatically, tend to have a much higher exposure to coronavirus, a new study reveals.

Key findings

University of Birmingham researchers have discovered that at least 50 per cent 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). These countries are followed by Thailand and Kenya, where 48 per cent do not have this habit, and Italy with 43 per cent.

In contrast, UK and U.S. 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.

Professor Ganna Pogrebna, from Birmingham Business School and Dr. Alex Kharlamov, from Birmingham Law School, published their findings in Regulation & Governance.

Professor Pogrebna commented: “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.

“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.”

Culture of handwashing

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.

Dr. Alex Kharlamov commented: “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 a lack of handwashing culture and exposure to the virus.”

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