Civil Society, Politics

A clear message must also give context and hope

Photo dark clouds over hills

The clouds are darkening as I write, but its not just the weather that looks bad. The recent growth in Coronavirus COVID-19 infections is worrying on pretty much every level.

Although we should be better informed and better placed to tackle the latest spread, the UK government appears to be changing its messaging at an alarming rate; and, if my recent visit to one part of England is anything to go by, a significantly large number of people have a blasé approach towards physical distancing, with daily life pretty much being back to normal.

OK, so this information is only anecdotal, but a lack of clarity from Boris Johnson is surely not helping. Indeed, given that he seems also not to know his own government’s guidance, I’d say, not for the first time, that there was something very wrong with the message delivery.

Of course the virus does not respect borders; and is on the rise pretty much throughout Europe. In Scotland, concern about rising infection levels has led to new 16-day restrictions on hospitality. Understandably, there is much alarm about the risk this brings to jobs, despite announcement of a £40million package to help soften the blow. But as the First Minister said yesterday, “We must consider the direct harm to health from the virus – which must be reduced – but do that alongside the harm being done to jobs and the economy, which in turn has an impact on people’s health and wellbeing.”

Certainly wellbeing is of increasing concern. As people grow tired of restrictions, attitudes and behaviour can change; and mental health can suffer. It doesn’t help when when some in the medical profession, in contrast to prevailing medical opinion, advocate protection just for the vulnerable, and herd immunity for everyone else.

So clear messaging is of crucial importance. But with any new measures there needs to be context. Simply saying that we need to control infections is not enough. If you target an area or sector, then you need to explain why.

As is often the case, the media went for the big headline following Nichola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday about hospitality, completely ignoring the reasoning behind it. I was therefore reassured to see Professor Jason Leitch on Breakfast television this morning, explaining why such choices had been made; and inviting people to read the evidence for themselves.

Of course, dealing with this pandemic was never going to be easy. It seems only the very wealthy are able to shield themselves from the harm caused by Covid-19. The rest of us have to manage as best we can, with all the difficulties that brings.

For a struggling voluntary sector, this has meant reconfigured service delivery; and funding switched to projects tackling the current crisis. Some organisation are managing, but others are clearly not.

From my own perspective, it has been hard finding work. More is happening online, yet with the novelty of Zoom wearing thin, it’s been difficult to recruit people to my own online workshops. Some had to be cancelled. That said, recent links with the voluntary sector north and south of the Scottish border has led to some consultancy, and to some online training delivery. So some positive news personally, but longer term, like everyone else, I hope the world can come to terms with the virus.

In the meantime, the messaging must be clear and it must be well delivered. But more than that, it should offer everyone some hope for the future.

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