Living in the pandemic required us all to rearrange our daily lives in both patient and clever ways. But it has been a long, tiring year.
As we look into the future, there is a growing realisation that Covid-19 will forever shadow us. Consequently, we must decide how much of our individual rights will have to be suppressed for society’s good and have a plan for living with the challenges.
Are our politicians the only reliable saviour because of our fears? Should we aim to control or protect one another? When our central message is about ‘those others’ who break the health rules, are we not distracting from the original goal of preventing viral infections?
After our initial success, we slipped into a comfort zone—not recognising that the dynamic and uncertain nature of the pandemic require us to have an evolving communication strategy.
We appear not to realise that media messaging plays a critical role in developing public awareness and community response to the official government actions.
Apart from politically polarised folk, there are four groups of persons relative to observing basic health regulations and being willing to take the vaccine.
Those who desperately want to avoid being ill, those who would try to be safe but are not unduly bothered, those who have questions, and those who do not care one whit.
Our officials are visibly weary from the strain of trying to corral us into compliance because they treat us as though we are all in the last group. We are not. The two prime groups may well be those who are not unduly bothered but will comply if given easy access to information and vaccines and those with questions.
The media are not scientists. They need help in conceptualising the inherent scientific uncertainty. The mode of the question-and-answer sessions does not lend itself to helping them communicate without inducing panic or jeopardising the goal.
The inconsistency of the messages sent by the behaviour of other public leaders shapes a distracting commentary. Consistency is a primary determinant in how public health information is received and induces compliance.
The lack of acknowledgement of the limitations of the information and advice provided does not bolster confidence. There is no need to beat the media over the head when both the officials and the press are unsure. The audience follows the international news feeds.
The prime source of misinformation is not the traditional media. We find conspiracy theories and emotional language pitched to specific communities bonded by personal beliefs and shared interests on social media platforms.
The Ministry of Health needs to use people-centred, first-person narratives with expressive language to counter this problem. Local celebrities and religious leaders have been underused in convincing the young sceptics.
The ministry missed a golden opportunity to leverage the vaccination of the top Ministry of National Security’s brass—two of whom have significant social media appeal. The punting on which ministry should address the loss of Minister Franklin Khan was not confidence-inducing.
Persons need useful material to share within their communities. Interpersonal communication impacts attitudes and behaviours and can lead to support for policies. We have to improve the quality of opinion shared by changing the balance of positive and negative considerations about the policies.
Maybe, the press conferences are past their due date.
To win this battle, we need scientifically sound but simple, understandable messages. We could ease off the bullying. Engage the community in public health policy discussions.