Entering March 2021, marked one year of the awaited recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic as a bitter pill that was originally denied. Initially, this virus became a joke, commented not seriously, even denied among decision-makers.
The uncertainty, in the beginning, maybe understandable. Previously the world has also been hit by a devastating pandemic called the “Spanish Flu”. It happened over a hundred years ago (1918). The pandemic has been rampant for more than two years. A third of the world’s population at the time was infected. The number of deaths from this disease is estimated between 20-50 million people, there is even an estimated 100 million people. The exact number is never known. There’s been no memory of that period in a century, so we’re “starting from scratch”.
Returning to the current situation, internationally New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won praise from all corners of the world for her firm but humane handling. Her public communication is impeccable. Pandemics can be overcome and life in the country by 2021 is almost back to normal.
Once there is confirmation of the entry of the COVID-19 virus into New Zealand, the government immediately imposes a total lockdown. Public communication is conducted non-stop. The message is clear, consistent, and easy to understand. Information flooded the community through billboards, banners, social media, pamphlets, and brochures. Providing clear guidance. Every afternoon Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Director-General of Health provide an update on the situation with the key message “Stay Home – Save Lives”. While Indonesia’s geographical, economic and educational conditions with New Zealand are clearly different, the most important lesson to be learned from them is public communication that receives great attention from its government.
The important role of good public communication was also realized by the United States Government under President Joe Biden after the confusion for nearly a year under the previous president, Donald Trump. The country has a federal agency called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC for short), which is the highest-ranking agency in public health and is responsible to the Ministry of Health in the federal capital Washington, DC. One of its tasks is to provide guidelines on important things that the general public needs to know in maintaining health.
After President Biden ran an organized mass vaccination program, many people have received the two injections of Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna vaccines designed for that method. At that time, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that only needed to be injected once began to circulate. In the first week of March, the public and mass media pressure was enormous on Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, who was recently appointed by President Biden to immediately issue a code of conduct for the general public that is tailored to the latest conditions. Negative comments began to appear questioning Walensky’s competence because the guidelines were not announced.
After delaying for a week finally the guidelines were issued by the CDC on March 8, 2021. The reason for the delay is brief and unequivocal: the content and communication strategy must first be finalized in order for the message to achieve its objectives. Communication factors played a key role in the handling of COVID-19 under the new administration of the United States.
The CDC has general guidelines for dealing with communications in crises. The last version I saw was the 2019 edition titled Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication, a 265-page book. The motto is written on the front page: “Be First, Be Right, Be Credible”. Presumably, this can be a reference for all parties dealing with public communication, especially when it comes to public health.
In Indonesia, vaccinations begin to run. The community gradually began to breathe a sigh of relief. Policy and communication policy began to improve as mass vaccinations began to be implemented, divided into several stages. After a year, we begin to take concrete steps to address the pandemic. It is expected that commensurate communication is also carried out so that the public has a clear and trusted handle in the pandemic period that I expect will still take place sometime in the future.
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners
This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 72nd Edition, issued on March 2021, page 53.
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