Epidemic Prevention Actions of Macao to Tackle COVID-19 Crisis

Macao, as the world’s most densely populated city (World Population Review, 2020), with a population of 54,799 per square mile (21,158 per square kilometer),[1] has been able to maintain the records of zero deaths and keep the confirmed cases under 50 since the outbreak[2] of COVID-19 (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020b) for more than half a year as of July 2020.

Table 1. Main Monitoring Statistical Figures of COVID-19 in Macao as of July 30, 2020
Region Updated on Cumulative cases Current No. of cases Serious cases Cured deadly cases
Macao July 30, 2020 46 0 1 46 0

A series of public policies responding to the epidemic were enacted quickly together with effective communications strategies, thereby winning the world’s praise and applause from well-known news journals to academic scholars (Au, 2020; Keegan, 2020; South China Morning Post, 2020). Appendix 1 shows the timeline of COVID-19 cases diagnoses dates and government preventive measures in Macao. A summary of the key government measures includes closure of casinos and entertainment venues during the pandemic period, extending schools’ spring holidays, refusing incoming tourists’ entrance to the city, etc. Other epidemic prevention policies that have been highly recognized not only locally (Au, 2020), but also regionally (United Daily News Group, 2020), nationally (XinHuaNet, 2020), and internationally (Keegan, 2020), include management by statistical data on grocery supplies to avoid panic shopping, stable supplies of face masks at an affordable price, and comprehensive, transparent, and timely epidemic information dissemination channels, as well as collaboration with various stakeholders on the flow of people during the COVID-19 crisis.

Dialogic Public Relations as a Key Factor to Facilitate Policy Implementations

On the other hand, policies also need to be implemented with effective communication strategies. Crisis response and management are critical during a pandemic like COVID-19 in terms of their urgency, scale, and impact (Weible et al., 2020), and proper communication is needed to facilitate policy implementations. The concept of dialogue has long been perceived by philosophers and rhetoricians as ethical communications that separate “truth from falsehood” (Kent & Taylor, 2002, p. 22) and its application in public relations is the shift from traditional management thinking of prediction and control to the new era of relationship building (Kent, 2017), which emphasize openness/transparency, values of others, seeing others as an end instead of a means to achieve the desired goals. Public relations professionals communicate an issue with the public with a dialogic system rather than some monologic policies under the following five major principles (Kent & Taylor, 2002, pp. 25–29):

  • Mutuality: the acknowledgement that the organization and the public are “tied together,” with the characteristics of “collaborative orientation” and “spirit of mutual equality.”

  • Propinquity: emphasis on rhetorical exchanges in order to build relationships, it is featured by “immediacy of presence,” “temporal flow,” and “engagement.”

  • Empathy: the atmosphere of support and trust that are built as the foundation for dialogue to succeed, its features include “supportiveness,” “communal orientation,” and “confirmation.”

  • Risk: the potential of unpredictable and dangerous outcomes from genuine dialogue, its features include “vulnerability,” “unanticipated consequences,” and “recognition of strange otherness.”

  • Commitment: the foundation of dialogue which emphasizes the constant pursuit of understanding other’s beliefs, values, and attitudes; its features include “genuineness,” “commitment to conversation,” and “commitment to interpretation.”

Ethical communication “strengthens the democratic relationship between politicians and citizens by opening up the policy formulation process” (Geldersa & Ihlen, 2010, p. 59), and utilizing dialogic approach to communicate with the public can facilitate policy implementations to increase public support, and enhance organizations’ image/reputation (Kent & Taylor, 2002).

Dialogic Approach Studies and Crisis Management Implications

A series of studies have found that government dialogic competency plays a key role in communicating political legitimacy during crisis time. For example, a quantitative online survey study on the Korean government’s response to the public health crisis of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak found that the lack of dialogic communication between the government and the public led to low credibility, prevalent rumors, and negative government-public relations outcomes (Yang, 2018). On the other hand, Chen et al. (2020) utilized both quantitative survey and qualitative content analysis methods to study how the Chinese central government engages citizens in its social media platform through dialogic communications during the COVID-19 crisis. Results show that the dialogic loop in social media, which allows the public to query organizations and provides organizations with the opportunity to respond to questions, concerns, and problems of the public, positively facilitates citizens engagement. Smith et al. (2018) also used a mixed-method approach with quantitative semantic network analysis and qualitative content analysis to analyze the dialogic phenomenon which appeard on social media during two terror attacks in Europe, showing that emotional expression and crisis coping behavior were salient especially on how the public “make sense” of the crisis through dialogic behavior (content response and sharing behaviors) such as “retweets, hashtags, and tagging fellow users” on social media, which further reflect the principles of empathy and understanding in dialogic theory.

Media Usage and Dialogic Theory During Crisis Time

Proper public relations conduct through media during a time of crisis with the dialogic theory framework is needed and has been proposed by many scholars. For example, James (2000) pointed out that immediate dissemination of the correct message [emphasis added] should be implemented through the organization’s official websites with a Q&A section that answers any concerns that the public may have; organizations should also communicate with stakeholders through various networks and channels, as well as constantly monitor if there are any rumors in the public and respond promptly. Perry et al. (2003) more specifically emphasized that organizations need to proactively engage publics in discussion before, during, and after a crisis, with both traditional media tools like press releases, press conferences, fact sheets, memo/letter to stakeholders, Q&A/FAQ collections, and new media tools like website visitors feedback channels, responding to website visitors’ inquiries, public opinion surveys, online press conferences, dedicated websites/website sections for the specific crisis, etc. Middleberg (2001) suggested that the most effective crisis management practice is to respond within 24 hours of when the crisis happened. Nathanial and Heyden (2020), whose work coincides with the dialogic principles of genuine commitment, indicated trust and credibility can be built with the public with transparent and clear communications as successful public relations strategies.

The Current Study

In the current study, we utilize the dialogic public relations theory as a framework to analyze various epidemic prevention actions of the Macao government to communicate with its public, and through an RDD telephone survey, we study some of the public reactions towards government epidemic prevention actions in Macao. The unique features of the study lay on three key factors: First, Macao, as a special administrative region in China, is the world’s most densely populated city. Second, Macao has been able to manage the COVID-19 pandemic since the initial outbreak for more than half a year as of July 2020. Third, no rally or major public backlash has been found in Macao with the multiple major epidemic prevention policies that have had an enormous economic impact on local business, including the closure of casinos, as Macao is the largest gaming center in Asia.

Previous research has found that “population density in urban areas can heighten disease transmission” (Kaneda & Greenbaum, 2020), and research shows that without proper communication, citizens lose trust and magnify the existing problems of a government like the case of Hong Kong in the public health crisis of SARS in 2003 (Lee, 2009). On the other hand, dialogic communications have been found to be able to manage diversity (Holopainen, 2010), increase social acceptance (Pieczka, 2011), and communicate crisis information better during public health emergency (Bourrier, 2018).

The Macao government, more specifically, has conducted the following epidemic prevention actions during the COVID-19 crisis that can be analyzed through the framework of dialogic public relations theory:

Mutuality

Mutuality in dialogic theory consists of two major features, collaborations and spirit of mutual equality. The Macao government has gained collaborative help with its promotional efforts from the local community, and associations are one of the key contributors in this aspect. Various local community associations have been supportive to the government by posting the government slogan of “Let’s work together for epidemic prevention” on their Facebook page or website, collaborating with government on the promotion of epidemic prevention during the COVID-19 crisis.[3] One study has explained these government-community collaborative efforts by finding that “a new class of elites in Macao has emerged and competes for political influence by building communal networks and mobilizing social support” (Wong & Kwong, 2019). In terms of the spirit of mutual equality, citizens are free to comment on the government daily press conference concerning the latest updates on COVID-19 through the government’s official Facebook page; some of the comments are criticizing messages (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020c). In addition, the chief executive in a press conference also emphasizes that all authorities are the same as any other Macao citizens, “the daughter of director [of the Office of the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture] also came back from Europe, and has also waited for 13 hours before she was able to arrive in the [hotel] room, so what? The director is in charge of the area, has she"taken care” of her very own child? No! Everybody is the same!" (Macao Daily News, 2020).

Propinquity

Propinquity emphasis on rhetorical exchanges in order to build relationships, features (1) immediacy of presence: communicating in the “present” rather than “after” decisions have been made, parties are communicating in a “shared space (or place)”; (2) temporal flow: dialogue as a continuous effort, involves understanding all parties in the “past, present, and future”; and (3) engagement: publics are consulted and considered on matters that affect them, all parties must be accessible and fully engaged instead of in an observer status (Kent & Taylor, 2002). The Macao government always engages its general public through consultation before implementing government policy as a regular practice, which builds the propinquity with its public. On the other hand, since COVID-19 is a special case that needs an immediate response, the government immediately released a series of policies the day after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed (BBC, 2020), and has constantly engaged its citizens through various channels (include multiple social media channels) afterward as a continual effort (temporal flow).[4]

Empathy

Empathy is the atmosphere of support and trust that is built as the foundation for dialogue to succeed, and features (1) supportiveness: “akin to” lovers who have their own desires but seeks the other’s good, efforts are made to facilitate mutual understanding; (2) communal orientation: building up a relationship with the community both locally and internationally, the community includes individuals, organizations, or general publics; (3) confirmation: gaining public trust and acknowledgements of the organization’s role in local, regional, national, and international communities (Kent & Taylor, 2002). The chief executive of Macao has constantly affirmed to the public that the Macao government will take care of them in the COVID-19 pandemic regardless of cost,[5] and asked for citizens’ understanding of the good intentions of corresponding government policies, that the government is thinking of citizens’ overall well-being. In terms of communal orientation, the Macao government has a good relationship not only locally, but also nationally with mainland China entities which enhances the effectiveness of policy enforcement. The various epidemic prevention policies were praised not only locally but also regionally and internationally (Keegan, 2020; South China Morning Post, 2020), such as the guarantee of face masks for every Macao citizen at the “very affordable” price of about $1US for 10 face masks, has also gained tremendous appreciateion from the public to the Macao government. An online survey conducted by the Macau Polling Research Association (MPRA) (2020), also in February 2020, found that 96.7% of the respondents were able to wear a face masks every time they went out during the COVID-19 period. According to a news observation report from Hong Kong, public reactions, especially on the support of Macao chief executive, has been reflected on his social media fans page in that the “likes” increased from a few hundred to a couple of thousand within one night (Initium Media, 2020).

Risk

Risk is the potential of unpredictable and dangerous outcomes from genuine dialogue, features include (1) vulnerability: self-disclosure of information, beliefs, and desires, with others, involves risks and vulnerability to be manipulated or ridiculed by other parties, but relationships can also be built and each encounters offers the possibility of growth, change, and rebirth; (2) unanticipated consequences: dialogic communication is unrehearsed and spontaneous, participating parties all have positions on issues, and thus may encounter unanticipated consequences; (3) recognition of strange otherness: conscious recognition of the difference, uniqueness, and individuality of others (Kent & Taylor, 2002). Some of the policies that the Macao government has enacted during the COVID-19 crisis have generated unanticipated consequences, such as the policy that all returning Macao residents who have been to an overseas territory, as well as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China, will be subject to a 14-day compulsory quarantine.[6] The policy was intended to help prevent the spread of the epidemic in the local community; however, some unanticipated consequences such as a few overseas returning students, aged below 18, from Portugal, have refused to be quarantined by their parents who sought help from the Portuguese media and legal channels (Exmoo News, 2020). In response to the inconvenience brought to the residents due to various epidemic prevention policies, the chief executive recognized the individuals’ needs and asked for residents’ understanding, “convenient measures make everyone happy while inconvenient measures make everyone unhappy. The government can only balance options and make a choice in the dilemma every day,” and further apologized for the imperfectness of the government operations teams and acknowledged the needs to continue to review, grow, and correct errors (Journal Do Cidadao, 2020).

Commitment

Commitment is the foundation of dialogue which emphasizes (1) genuineness: transparent disclosure of information; (2) commitment to conversation: with purpose of seeking mutual benefits; and (3) commitment to interpretation: fine-tune languages and work per other’s needs. The Macao government has been adopting an open, transparent approach in its conversation with the public. For example, in response to the public’s fear on having a grocery shortage due to COVID-19, the Macao government has constantly monitored grocery supplies and published corresponding figures on government websites, “to inform the public that the food supply will remain sufficient and reasonably priced so as to prevent panic shopping” (Au, 2020). A news report from Hong Kong also praised the Macao government’s commitment to transparent policy and management by figures, “Chief Executive Ho always asked the public’s official leaders on statistical figures in meetings, and they are all very familiar with the number of face masks storages, number of tourists from Hubei, number of virus-testing medicine storage, etc.” (The News Lens, 2020).

From the above literature review, the current paper proposes the following research question:

RQ: What are the public reactions towards the government epidemic prevention actions during the COVID-19 crisis in Macao?

Methodology

Published articles and literature concerning the Macao government epidemic prevention actions to the COVID-19 outbreak have been considered and reviewed, which is in line with the basic research methodololgy of the existing COVID-19 studies (Au, 2020; Torales et al., 2020). A quantitative telephone survey was also conducted in February 2020 using the Computer-Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) system, with a sample of 502 Macao residents aged 18 or above, with a 95% confidence interval at a 4.46% margin of error, to study the public reactions towards the government epidemic prevention actions. A total of 2,253 phone numbers were dialed; 137 (6.1%) numbers were confirmed to be ineligible (e.g., not in use), and the eligibility of 1,535 numbers (68.1%) was unknown. Among the 581 (25.8%) eligible numbers, 502 (86.4%) were successful and completed the survey; 79 (13.6%) refused to participate, either at the household-level or by individual eligible respondents. The response rate and cooperation rates were 29.0% and 95.3%, respectively (Rate 4, American Association for Public Opinion Research, 2020). Average time of completion was 11.3 minutes. All survey data was weighted by age and gender according to government official population statistical data. Table 2 shows the weighted sample demographics and comparison for age and gender with the Macao population census.

Table 2. Demographics of the Sample and Comparison for Age and Gender with Macao Population Census
 Characteristic Survey sample
count
Weighted sample (%)
(N=502)
Macao population
census (%)a
Gender Male 224 44.7 45.7
Female 278 55.3 54.3
Age 18-24 50 10.3 10.2
25-34 110 22.8 21.7
35-44 91 18.8 19.5
45-54 85 17.6 17.0
55 or above 147 30.5 31.5
Education Primary or below 68 13.7  
Middle school 212 42.6
College or above 217 43.7  
Employment status Employed 306 61.8  
Student 41 8.3
Housewife/Retired/Unemployed 148 29.9  

a Population statistical data of 2019 Q4 : Macao residents aged 18 or above, from of the Statistics and Census Service, Government of Macao Special Administrative Region

Survey Measures

The public reactions towards the government epidemic prevention actions are measured by the following key concepts and questions in the survey:

Frequency of Paying Attention to the Government Epidemic Information

This was measured by the question “How often do you pay attention to the epidemic information released by the government?” by a 5-point Likert scales from “never pay attention,” “seldom pay attention,” “sometimes pay attention,” “often pay attention,” and “everytime [when information was released] pay attention.”

Trust in Government Information

This concept was measured by the question of “Regarding the information about COVID-19, do you trust information from government channels more, or trust information from other usually watched channels more?” with the answer choices of: “trust government channels the most,” “trust government channels more,” “about the same,” “trust other usually watched channels more,” and “trust other usually watched channels the most.”

Collaborative Dialogic Behavior

Collaborative dialogic behavior (content response and sharing behaviors) on social media (Smith et al., 2018) was measured by two sets of questions about Facebook and WeChat respectively:

  1. “During this epidemic period, have you done the following through the [Macao] government Facebook page on the COVID-19 information: (a) give a Like or other emotional icons; (b) publish an opinion (comment/response); (c) share/re-post corresponding information”;

  2. “During this epidemic period, after you have read the COVID-19 [Macao] government information on WeChat, have you done the following: (a) share it to a group; (b) share it to friend circle; (c) chat with others about the corresponding information; (d) save the corresponding information?”

The above questions were measured with the frequency of those behaviors: “never,” “seldom,” sometimes," “often,” and “all the time every day.”

Obtaining Government Informtion in Various Media Channels

This variable was measured with the question “How often do you obtain government information regarding COVID-19 through this channel?” with the answer choices of “never,” “seldom,” “sometimes,” “often,” and “all the times every day,” the media channels include TV, newspaper, radio, billboards, community audio broadcasting system, promotional car broadcasting, official government websites, official government Facebook pages, official government WeChat accounts, YouTube, official government mobile Apps, Telegram[7], and the official government Instagram account.

Evaluation on Government Communication Channels

Government Information Dissemination Effort Improvement Needs. This was measured by the question “Regarding the govenrment’s COVID-19 related information dissemination effort, what are some of the aspects that you think are not enough and need to be improved?” with key items like “media communications channels,” “information dissemination speed,” “information transparency,” “information accuracy,” “other,” and “doesn’t have anything to be improved.”

Helpfulness of Epidemic Information from Government. This was measured by the question “Overall, do you find the information disseminated by the government on epidemic prevention is helpful or not?” using a 5-point Likert scale with the options: “very unhelpful,” “not really helpful,” “half and half,” “somewhat helpful,” and “very helpful.”

Will Use the Channels Again or Not. This was measured by the question “Will you continue to use the corresponding channels [channels answered in previous section’s question on obtaining government information][8] to obtain government information in the future?” using a 3-point Likert scale with the options: “for sure not,” “maybe will,” and “for sure will.”

Satisfaction on Government COVID-19 Information. This measured by the question “Overall, are you satisfied with the information about COVID-19 published by the government?” using a 5-point Likert scale with the options: “very dissatisfied”, “dissatisfied”, “moderate”, “satisfied”, and “very satisfied.”

Satisfaction on Government Overall Epidemic Prevention Performance

This was measured by the question “Until now, what is your overall satisfaction towards the [Macao] Special Administrative Region government on its epidemic prevention performance?” using a 5-point Likert scale with the options: “very dissatisfied”, “dissatisfied”, “moderate”, “satisfied”, and “very satisfied.”

Results and Discussion

The survey results were analyzed with the dialogic communications framework on the public reactions towards the government epidemic prevention actions (RQ), with the precedents discussed in the literature review section on both the definition of dialogic communiations principles and how the various government actions and strategies during the pandemic were corresponding to the theory. The two need to be considered together in order to discuss the results in a more coherent perspective.

Mutuality

Mutuality in dialogic theory consists of two major features: collaborations and spirit of mutual equality.

As mentioned in the literature review section, government promotional efforts have gained collaborative local community support. The Macao community in general considers that they need to “work together in order to beat back COVID-19.” Macao’s general public also has a high degree of “mutual consent reality” with the government and takes information from government channels as a key reference rather than other sources during the COVID-19 epidemic crisis. Public reactions on social media also reflect some collaborative dialogic behavior, such as re-disseminating government information through personal networks. Survey results show that 78.0% of the respondents always pay attention to the epidemic information released by the government, and 69.0% of the respondents trust the information released by the government more than other sources. In addition, among the respondents who obtained COVID-19 epidemic information through Macao government official social media channels (50.7% from Facebook and 40.5% from WeChat), 58.8% have collaboratively re-disseminated the information by sharing the information to other WeChat groups and 76.7% have discussed it with others in WeChat.

Propinquity

Propinquity emphasizes relationship building through immediacy of present, temporal flow, and engagement. As discussed in the literature review section, immediacy of presence in a time of crisis shows the propinquity characteristics and dialogical efforts of the Macao government during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, engagements with stakeholders through maximum media channels and networks are also another key government propinquity contributor. Survey results show that the Macao government has maximized its engagement with the public through more than ten traditional and new media channels,[9] including the traditional channels of TV (96.2%), newspaper (47.0%), radio (40.0%), billboards (48.8%), the community audio broadcasting system (73.1%), and promotional car broadcasting (74.0%), to online platforms, including official government websites (52.8%), facebook pages (50.7%), WeChat accounts (40.5%), YouTube (39.4%), government mobile Apps (37.6%), Telegram (15.8%), and Instagram (15.0%), Table 3 shows the frequency with which Macao residents obtain government information about COVID-19 through various media channels; overall, 99.1% of Macao residents have used at least one of the above channels to obtain government information regarding COVID-19 prevention; only 4.2% of the survey responsdents said that the government media communications channels are not enough; 3.7% consider that government information dissemination speed needs to be improved, and only 1.9% believe that government information is not transparent enough and 0.4% consider that government information is not accurate enough, while 75.0% said that government information dissemination does not have to improve anything. This indicates that a very large majority are satisfied with the speed and channels that the government uses to communicate with its public and the disclosure of corresponding information during the crisis of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Table 3. Frequency of Macao Residents Obtaining Government Information Regarding COVID-19 Through Various Media Channels (N=502)
  Official government websites (%) Newspaper (%) TV (%) Radio (%) Official government Facebook pages (%) Official government WeChat accounts (%) Telegram (%) Official government Instagram account (%) YouTube (%) Official government mobile apps (%) Community audio broadcasting system (%) Promotional car broadcasting (%) Billboard (%)
All the time everyday 1.2 4.2 21.9 2.9 2.7 1.3 2.1 0.2 0.2 0.6 7.6 4.5 0.2
Often 12.2 15.6 48.6 9.5 19.5 5.9 4.3 1.7 4.5 6.5 17.9 17.4 7.6
Sometimes 22.7 13.2 19.4 9.0 16.5 15.6 4.8 4.2 12.5 15.9 30.5 32.5 16.5
Seldom 16.7 13.9 6.3 18.6 12.0 17.7 4.6 8.9 22.2 14.6 17.2 19.6 24.5
Never 46.1 52.4 3.0 59.7 48.4 58.7 82.1 84.1 59.5 60.7 25.2 25.0 46.2
Don't know/hard to say 1.1 0.6 0.8 0.3 0.9 0.8 2.2 0.9 1.1 1.6 1.6 1.0 5.0
Usage rate (sum of % from "seldom" to "all the time every day") 52.8 47.0 96.2 40.0 50.7 40.5 15.8 15.0 39.4 37.6 73.1 74.0 48.8

Empathy

Empathy is the atmosphere of support and trust that is built as the foundation for dialogue to succeed, featuring supportiveness, communal orientation, and confirmation. As mentioned in the literature review section, the Macao government has been supportive of the public with both useful information and practical social support such as subsidy programs and the constant supply of facemasks at a very affordable price. The government also went the extra mile to monitor and disclose the number of face masks in storage in various designated selling locations to the public during the COVID-19 period, indicating a high sense of empathy to the public’s needs. Survey results show that 94.4% of the respondents found that information disseminated by the government on epidemic prevention is “helpful,” and 93.3% of those who have obtained such government information will continue to use the corresponding channels to obtain such information in the future, indicating a high level of public perception of the usefulness of government information in helping/supporting them with epidemic prevention, as well as a confirmation of the government effort especially in the information dissemination aspects.

Risk

Risk is the potential of unpredictable and dangerous outcomes from genuine dialogue, featuring vulnerability, unanticipated consequences, and recognition of strange otherness. Survey results show that, although 69.0% of the respondents trust the information released by the government more than other sources, there are still 11.1% of respondents who trust other sources more than government channels. Further analysis of the demographic characteristics indicates that younger people, aged 18-24 (23%), as well as students (28.5%), have greater percentage than other groups to trust other sources rather than government channels, indicating there is still some risk of vulnerability to dissemination of non-official messages, which could include untrue rumors. As a proper dialogic communication practice suggested by scholars, organizations should constantly communicate with stakeholders during a time of crisis through various networks and channels, as well as monitor for rumors in the public and respond promptly (James, 2000).

Commitment

Commitment is the foundation of dialogue, which emphasizes genuineness (transparent disclosure of information), commitment to conversation (with purpose of seeking mutual benefits), and commitment to interpretation (fine-tuning language and work per others’ needs). As mentioned in the literature review section, the Macao government has committed to transparent and genuine communication during the COVID-19 period. Examples include constantly monitoring grocery supplies, face masks, etc. and publishing corresponding figures to avoid panic shopping. Government officials are also familiar with statistical figures on the number of tourists from Hubei,[10] the number of virus tests, medicine storage, etc., and have truthfully disclosed those figures constantly to the public through news reports. The survey results show that 92.2% of the respondents are satisfied with the information about COVID-19 published by the Macao government, and 94.7% of the respondents are satisfied with the overall performance of the Macao government on the prevention of the epidemic, indicating government commitment to constant communication with transparent figures is rewarded by positive public evaluations.

Concluding Remarks

The current paper utilizes the dialogic public relations theory to analyze the situations using both literature review on how the various government actions and strategies during the pandemic correspond to the theory, and a quantitative random digital dialing (RDD) telephone survey, with a sample of 502 Macao residents aged 18 or above, to study the public reactions towards the government epidemic prevention actions (RQ). Public reactions were measured by some of the key concepts in the survey, including frequency of paying attention to the government epidemic information, trust in government information, collaborative dialogic behavior, obtainment of government information in various media channels, evaluation on government communication channels, and satisfaction on government overall epidemic prevention performance. Survey results show that the majority of Macao residents trust the government’s information and have accessed it through a variety of traditional and new media channels. In addition, some forms of collaborative information re-dissemination behavior on social media platforms have also been found. The vast majority of survey respondents consider the epidemic information disseminated by the government helpful, and survey results also show a high level of public satisfaction towards epidemic prevention performance, indicating general public affirmation of the government epidemic prevention effort. Our literature review found that the government’s spirit of mutual equality, collaboration with the local community, immediacy of presence in a time of crisis, engagements with stakeholders through maximum media channels and networks, supportiveness of the public with both useful information and practical social support like the subsidy program, as well as a commitment to transparent and genuine communication, are all the dialogic communication strategies that have been employed in various media channels to communicate with the public during the COVID-19 crisis. The Macao government has enjoyed a high level of trust from the society before the epidemic (Journal Seng Pou, 2019), and as reviewed in the literature section, the Macao government generally adopts the approach suggested by the dialogic theory (mutuality, propinquity, empathy, commitment, and handling of risk) in its policy implementation, e.g. emphasizing public consultation, engaging community associations, supportive subsidy programs, management by statistical figures, etc. Overall, the above strategies or lessons that could be learned from the Macao government; as one of the world’s most densely populated cities, Macao has tackled COVID-19 for more than half a year as of July 2020, using effective dialogic communication strategies. Macao may be used as a reference for similar urbanized and densely populated cities in other territories.

Research Limitation

The current study is a one-time random digital dialing (RDD) telephone survey, considered together with a review of the government response since the outbreak of COVID-19. While dialogic theory can be utilized to describe the various epidemic prevention actions from the Macao government to successfully communicate with the public, which is likely to be one of the key contributors of positive public support, a direct conclusion may not be drawn on whether it is the sole explanation of the positive public evaluation of the Macao government epidemic prevention performance, It could be a longer pattern of government trust and support, and public support may increase due to the crisis as indicated previously in the empathy sections of literature review. Future follow-up research may be done as longitudinal studies regarding the cause and effects aspects of the effective communications between the Macao government and its residents.

Appendix

Timeline of COVID-19 Cases Diagnosis Date and Government Preventive Measures in Macao
Diagnosis date Confirmed case(s) Preventive measures announcement date Key notes summary of government preventive measures
1/1/2020 Body temperature screening at Macao international airport to passengers from Wuhan.
1/2/2020 Health declaration form required from flight passengers from Wuhan.
1/4/2020 Body temperature screening of drivers and travelers who enter Macao via land-based checkpoints.
1/21/2020 Temperature checks of all other mainland China inbound air passengers.
1/22/2020 1 1/22/2020 All casino staff are required to wear a mask at work.
1/23/2020 1 1/23/2020 The Guaranteed Mask Supply for Macao Residents Scheme is launched: residents and non-resident workers in Macao can purchase 10 masks every 10 days.
Health declaration is enforced in various ports of entry to incoming travelers at immigration clearance.
1/26/2020 3  
1/27/2020 2 1/27/2020 Visitors who have been to Hubei Province of mainland China within the past 14 days are required to present "free-from-COVID-19" health certificate to enter Macao.
Individuals who have visited Hubei Province within 14 days before their entry into Macao are restricted from entering the casinos.
2/2/2020 1  
2/4/2020 2 2/4/2020 Closure of venues authorized for the operation of gambling activities (rescinded on February 20).
Closure of cinemas, theaters, indoor playgrounds, amusement game and video game parlors, cyber cafes, billiard rooms, bowling centers, sauna and massage venues, beauty salons, fitness centers, health clubs, karaoke premises, bars, night clubs, discotheques, dance halls, and cabarets (rescinded on March 2).
2/16/2020 Establishment of electronic system for personal health declaration.
2/20/2020 14-day period of medical observation at designated venue are required for non-resident workers to enter Macao.
Medical examination of travelers from countries/areas with potential risk or high incidence of COVID-19 and frequent border crossing local residents, at border checkpoints.
2/24/2020 Medical examinations of all individuals who have visited South Korea within the past 14 days prior to entry into Macao were enforced.
2/26/2020 Medical observation (14-days at designated venue) of all arrivals who have been to South Korea in the past 14 days before entry into Macao.
2/29/2020 Medical observation (14-days at designated venue) of all arrivals who have been to Italy or Iran in the past 14 days before entry into Macao.
3/8/2020 Medical examination of all arrivals who have been to Germany, France, Spain, or Japan within the past 14 days prior to entry into Macao.
3/10/2020 Medical observation (14-days at designated venue) of all arrivals who have been to Germany, France, Spain, or Japan in the past 14 days before entry into Macao.
3/12/2020 Medical examination of all arrivals who have been to Norway within the past 14 days prior to entry into Macao.
3/14/2020 Medical observation (14-days at designated venue) of all students, regardless of education level, returning from abroad.
3/15/2020 1  
3/16/2020 1
3/17/2020 1 3/17/2020 Medical observation (14-days at designated venue) of all arrivals who have been to countries/areas outside China in the past 14 days before entry into Macao.
3/18/2020 2 3/18/2020 Prohibited entrance to all non-Macao residents (except residents from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and non-resident workers).
3/19/2020 2 3/19/2020 Prohibited re-entrance of non-resident workers from overseas countries (except those who are at the same time residents of mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan).
3/21/2020 1  
3/22/2020 3
3/23/2020 4
3/24/2020 1
3/25/2020 4 3/25/2020 Prohibited entrance of all residents from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan who have been to a foreign country in the past 14 days before arriving Macao.
Medical observation (14-days at designated venue) of all arrivals who have been to Hong Kong or Taiwan in past 14 days before entry into Macao.
3/26/2020 3  
3/27/2020 1
3/28/2020 3
3/29/2020 1
3/30/2020 1
3/31/2020 2
4/3/2020 2
4/5/2020 1
4/8/2020 1
4/15/2020 Report of negative COVID-19 by nucleic acid test required for all air passengers departing for Macao before boarding.
4/27/2020 Nucleic acid tests are given to teaching staff, students, fishermen, and employees of social service institutions in phases.
4/29/2020 Medical observation (14-days at designated hotel or fishing vessel) of all fishermen returning to Macao after April 29; those who returned before April 29 will have a nucleic acid test.
5/3/2020 The Macao Health Code, an upgraded version of the Personal Health Declaration, is launched to realize “closed-loop management” from point of entry to the community.
5/4/2020 Senior high schools resume classes.
5/7/2020 “Nucleic Acid Test Scheme for Macao Residents Living across the Boundary” has been launched, providing up to 6,000 tests per day, to satisfy Macao residents’ demand for cross-boundary activities.
5/11/2020 “Centralized isolation medical observation” is tentatively suspended for non-resident workers from Zhuhai, mainland China.
Certificate of nucleic acid test issued within the past 7 days is required for all person arriving from mainland China, or they are subject to immediate nucleic acid testing (for Macao residents)/denied entry (for non-Macao residents).
Junior high schools resume classes.
5/13/2020 Macao sends emergency medical team joining China's national efforts to assist Algeria in fighting COVID-19.
5/17/2020 Certificate of nucleic acid test issued within the past 7 days is required for all individuals traveling from Macao to Zhuhai.
5/25/2020 Macao residents aged 65 or above, 18 or under, and holders of disability and medical assistance card, may choose to undergo nucleic acid test at designated government venues.
Classes of Primary 4 to 6 resume.
6/1/2020 Classes of Primary 1 to 3 resume.
6/16/2020 Macao residents with official, commercial, or specific reasons may be granted a medical quarantine waiver to cross the Zhuhai-Macao boarder, after assessment and approval by Macao and Zhuhai government, at 1,000 exemptions per day.
6/17/2020 Medical observation (14-days at designated venue) for all individuals who have been to Beijing in the past 14 days before entry into Macao.
6/22/2020 Non-resident workers from mainland China are allowed to enter Macao when they satisfy following conditions:
(i) habitual residence in Zhuhai
(ii) certificate of negative results of nucleic acid test
(iii) Macao Health Code is green (approval to get pass)
6/26/2020 1 6/26/2020 Negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test report from country of origin is required for those departing from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, or Brazil to use ferry service between Hong Kong airport and Macao.
6/27/2020 Quota for Macao residents with official or commercial reasons to cross Zhuhai-Macao boarder for medical quarantine waiver increased from 1,000 to 3,000.
6/29/2020 Macao residents studying in Taiwan may be exempted from presenting nucleic acid certificate from Taiwan before boarding a flight to Macao.
7/6/2020 With a daily quota of 3,000 quarantine exemption applications for official, business, or special reasons, Macao residents may travel within the nine Greater Bay Area (GBA) cities in Guangdong Province within 14 days after entering Zhuhai.
7/13/2020 Passengers from Hong Kong to Macao through the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge are required to present negative results of COVID-19 nucleic acid test.
All arrivals from Hong Kong are required to present negative results of COVID-19 nucleic acid test or will be denied entry, 14 days medical observations at designated place after arrival remains in force.
14 days medical observation requirement for individuals who have been to Beijing before entering Macao lifted.
Medical certificate of no infection with COVID-19 for those from or have been to Hubei, China, lifted.
7/14/2020 Restriction of individuals who have visited Hubei, China to enter casinos lifted.
All ferry and air passengers departing from Macao required negative results for COVID-19 nucleic acid test within past 7 days.
7/15/2020 All individuals entering hotels and guesthouses required temperature check and Macao Health Code (self-declarations), individuals entering casinos required certificate of negative results for COVID-19 nucleic acid test.
Persons entering Guangdong from Macao border checkpoints are no longer required 14 days centralized medical observations (except suspected COVID-19 cases), but need to remain in the nine Greater Bay Area (GBA) cities.
7/19/2020 Lifting of a few previous laws restricting the entry of non-resident workers from mainland China, but still need to present certificate of negative results for COVID-19 nucleic acid test and Macao Health Code to enter Macao.
7/24/2020 700 daily quotas provided for Guangdong-Macao double license plate vehicles to cross border; drivers and passengers required to present negative COVID-19 test certificate, Yuekang Code and relevant travel documents during customs clearance.
7/29/2020 Exemption of 14-day medical observation for Macao residents to enter Guangdong is extended from the 9 Greater Bay Area cities to the whole Guangdong province.

Source: Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2020a), key notes summary edited by authors


Biographical Notes

Juliana Qi Xuan Yuncg is a member of the Macao Polling Research Association. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Survey Research from the University of Connecticut, USA and a Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies (Integrated Marketing Communication) from California State University, San Bernardino, USA. She can be reached at Macao Polling Research Association, Alameda Dr. Carlos D’ Assumpcao No.258, 13 Andar J, Edif. Kin Heng Long Plaza, Macao, China or by e-mail at juliana.yuncg@e-research-solutions.com.

Angus Weng Hin Cheong is the president of the Macao Polling Research Association. He earned his PhD in Communication Studies from Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, China. He can be reached at Macao Polling Research Association, Alameda Dr. Carlos D’ Assumpcao No.258, 13 Andar J, Edif. Kin Heng Long Plaza, Macao, China or by e-mail at angus@e-research-solutions.com.

Athena I No Seng is an executive member of the Macao Polling Research Association. She earned her Master of Arts in Communication Studies from the University of Macau, Macau, China. She can be reached at Macao Polling Research Association, Alameda Dr. Carlos D’ Assumpcao No.258, 13 Andar J, Edif. Kin Heng Long Plaza, Macao, China or by e-mail at athenaseng@e-research-solutions.com.

Kim Jing Li is a member of the Macao Polling Research Association, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Finance from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China, and can be reached at Macao Polling Research Association, Alameda Dr. Carlos D’ Assumpcao No.258, 13 Andar J, Edif. Kin Heng Long Plaza, Macao, China or by e-mail at lijing@e-research-solutions.com.

Correspondence

All correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Weng Hin Cheong, PhD, at Macao Polling Research Association, Alameda Dr. Carlos D’ Assumpcao No.258, 13 Andar J, Edif. Kin Heng Long Plaza, Macao, China or by e-mail at angus@e-research-solutions.com.


Date of submission: 2020-06-30

Date of the review results: 2020-08-07

Date of the decision: 2020-08-20


  1. As of July 30, 2020, population data from Government of Macao Special Administrative Region, Statistics and Census Service, and total land area data from Macao Cartography and Cadastre Bureau.

  2. First case of COVID-19 confirmation in Macao was on Jan 22, 2020 (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020b).

  3. Examples of associations posting the government slogan of “Let’s work together for epidemic prevention” on their Facebook page or website include the Macao New Chinese Youth Association (2020), Associacao de Juventude de Fu Lun de Macao (2020), Macao Pui Ching Middle School Student Union (2020), etc.

  4. See for example the news report “Government launches news channel on Telegram” (Macau News, 2020).

  5. Examples of various news and social media platforms citing the Macao chief executive’s supportive statements to its citizens that the government is protecting them from the epidemic regardless of cost can be seen in Journal Do Cidadao (2020), Macao Monthly (2020), Lotus Times (2020), etc.

  6. “All non-residents will be barred from entering the city, with the exception of work permit holders – known as blue cards – and residents from Mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, with the quarantine measures mentioned before only applying to these groups” (Moura, 2020).

  7. Telegram is an instant messaging app, and the Macao SAR government news channel in it was launched in Feb, 2020 (Macau News, 2020)

  8. The media channels include TV, newspaper, radio, billboards, community audio broadcasting system, promotional car broadcasting, official government websites, official government Facebook pages, official government WeChat accounts, YouTube, official government mobile Apps, Telegram, and the official government Instagram account.

  9. Percentages in the parentheses after the media channels are their corresponding usage rate measured by the question “How often do you obtain government information regarding COVID-19 through this channel?” with the sum of percentages of those who answered “seldom,” “sometimes,” “often,” and “all the time every day.”

  10. Government records suggest the first case of infection with the COVID-19 in China may have been a Hubei resident (Ma, 2020).