opinion

Too many spokespeople and contradictions: Australia's COVID-19 PR problem needs to be fixed.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m a media and PR professional and I’m approaching this from a PR perspective. So I thought I’d try and explain why we are seeing so much panic across society amid COVID-19. (For the most up-to-date coronavirus information, go to our COVID-19 coverage hub here.)

In any crisis, whether it’s a major public health crisis like this or a crisis inside a single entity like a business, good, effective communication coupled with action is essential in preventing panic and ensuring you maintain control of the situation.

So far, the Government has failed in every part of this due to a number of issues.

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1. Too many spokespeople.

Every day, we have a press conference from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), our state premiers, state health ministers etc. It means people are being given too much information at once and they’re not sure who is actually in control.

During the bushfires, the RFS Commissioner was the person in charge, premiers occasionally provided updates but it was Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, who led the spokesperson role. Throw in the flood of information we can all access from overseas and no one is sure who to trust. You can even look to NZ where Jacinda Ardern is leading their spokesperson role through her post-cabinet updates.

2. Lack of detail.

Hoarding of goods can directly be traced to a lack of detail when it comes to a lockdown.

We have all seen what has happened around the world in regards to cities locking down. The Government has not explained that if a lockdown was to occur what that would look like. What people could and couldn’t do, what services would be available. Lack of details leaves people to fill the gaps in on their own and this then leads to panic. One person begins panicking which leads to group panic. The Government is then left to try and put the genie back in the bottle

3. Contradicting information.

While the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and other leaders have assured us the young aren’t as affected by the virus, details from overseas indicate they can still be hospitalised. In small numbers, yes, but there are still people under 30 hospitalised.

No one from leadership has addressed this. Furthermore, they have told parents to be wary of their kids who could carry the virus. They then simultaneously keep schools open and have not addressed the health of teachers. On Monday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told parents to keep kids home but that schools remained open. Both the PM and CMO were asked directly about teacher health on Friday and neither of them answered the question. They spoke about student health.

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Again, if you don’t provide details, people fill the void themselves. Juxtapose this with the details provided by the RFS in the summer and you see what they are lacking at the moment.

4. Perceived lack of control.

The flooding of Bondi Beach and the allowance of 2,700 cruise passengers to flood the city alongside the lack of screening at the airport means residents don’t believe the government is taking this seriously.

As a result its authority is undermined and people won’t listen.

5. No government goodwill.

It is proven that if you have poorly handled a crisis in the past it’s harder to rectify a future crisis. The butchering of the bushfire crisis by the government means this government is facing this situation with no trust from the general public.

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So, what’s the solution?

Just to be clear. You don’t fix this with a nice press conference. You fix this with clear action that looks to allay the fears of the public. That’s suspending mortgages, providing basic income to laid off staff, closing schools, testing in airports and cruise terminals alongside widespread testing when available, grants and funding to small businesses.

The government has made a step in terms of closing non-essential businesses, but the press conference they announced it at was less than authoritative, nor was it convincing anyone they were actually in control. The government has also announced a relief package for small to medium businesses and easier access to welfare.

You combine that with effective communication and the general level of fear and anxiety will drop. It will not resolved it altogether, but it does allow the public to see that action is being taken and their fears are being addressed.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia. They have chosen to remain anonymous to protect their identity. Feature image: Getty.

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are those with symptoms who have either returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days. 

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus – How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

How are you feeling at the moment about COVID-19? Do you think the Government could be doing more? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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