The government, business, and all citizens have a role to play in reducing the violence of the first wave of a contagion. Judging from the way the contagion is playing out in other countries, and my judgment that we have been slow to communicate clearly and consistently about Covid-19, here are some simple quick wins, where speed is now essential:
- Spokesperson. Take the politics out of the emergency. Appoint an authoritative dedicated emergency Federal government spokesperson – preferably a medical scientist or epidemiologist – so that updates can be as regular as needed, and official information is not tainted by political considerations or prejudices (the effort to appear Prime Ministerial etc.).
- Nodes. Good health communications is tied to action. Our cities and towns have no nodal hygiene points on railway stations, or at supermarket teller points or automatic bank outlets. Hygiene stations don’t just serve to kill viral contact points. They reinforce vital messages about social distancing, clean hands, and the shared public responsibility of a public health crisis. They also promote public calm and reassurance.
- NGOs. Get the Salvos and Red Cross out there. Key volunteer groups must be mustered by the government to man these nodes, both distributing hygiene gel, and providing basic advice to the public. The early stage of an emergency is about testing and establishing well-functioning networks that provide the kind of personpower necessary to rapidly upscale and reorient to fresh tasks. Flexible teams serve as a monitoring device, and can be turned to other jobs such as food delivery to vulnerable households.
- Business. Aside from doing all they can to establish remote systems in the first wave of the crisis, businesses should use their resources to amplify official health and hygiene advice (and establish hygiene stations where they are major points-of-contact with the public), even as they strategize now about returning to full work. Watch China as that country attempts to return to work whilst maintaining careful surveillance systems. Australia will be doing the same in around two months.
- App. An official single ‘peak’ source at your fingertips. The app is for current news, best practices, communications resources, emerging intelligence, and official advice and directives. The app should flag advice as known, unknown, or developing. It must be widely advertised, and shadowed by other communications sources such as sms directives, websites, and official communiques.
- The wheel. Don't reinvent it. Some of the best graphic-visualization material is already out there. Government information officers should endorse the best material from the media, and use it freely on government information sites.
- The law. Prosecute bad or misleading information. This is less of a problem in Australia, and yet there is long-standing evidence of bad actors exploiting controversy over vaccination, for example, to sow discord and doubt in order to weaken trust in authority. Health crisis management is closely aligned with national security concerns.
- Charity. Our well-heeled societies will largely withstand the C-19 onslaught. Australia should plan now to allocate resources and assistance for countries that will be struck much harder than our own. As if climate change and the fires weren't enough, C-19 reminds us that we're in this together. In troubled times, it helps to look ahead and outwards...
- The horizon. An important element of public communications is not just "we will survive and get back to the footy." The government must paint a credible picture of the point to which we are working throughout this next year. It's a cause not just for hope, but for the constructive reconstruction that will be required to get back on our feet.