Try asking anyone, “What is a new normal?” I believe that no one will be able to provide a brief, clear and easy to understand explanation. Then continue with the question, “How is it different from the old normal?” The answer will be increasingly unclear. I tried to search for meaning on Google with the key phrase “Indonesia’s new normal guidelines”, and Google answered with around 40 million articles which would make it even more difficult for us to scavenge information from various sources.

Finding information that is easily digested by the general public is also not easy. There is a Minister of Health Decree No. HK.01.07/MENKES/328/2020 dated 20 May 2020. The contents are Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Office and Industrial Workplaces in Support of Business Continuity in Pandemic Situations. The content is commensurate with the length of the title, difficult to digest.

Then on July 13, 2020, the Ministry of Health issued Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Very comprehensive, 214 pages thick. Again, digging up important information is not easy.

All government efforts to provide behavioral direction are commendable. What needs to be considered next is the right communication strategy and communication techniques so that people can easily understand the purpose of regulation. In this case, it seems that the government’s efforts are not sufficient. People generally think that the new normal means life goes back to normal. All of this is taking place at a time when the pandemic continues to rise sharply.

There are also concerns that the Regional Head Election which will take place in 270 regions will spawn new clusters for the spread of COVID-19. We can see the candidate registration process in a number of areas is running as if it had been carried out in the old normal. Supporters of regional head candidates crammed without keeping their distance and many do not wear masks.

The government faces a dilemma between opening up the economy or preventing the spread of COVID-19. The impression appears that the economy is prioritized. This is understandable, because if the wheels of the economy do not work, it will be increasingly difficult to restore the economy in the long run. Bisnis Indonesia daily, in an editorial on 29 August 2020 stated that health must be the top priority. Logically, if health problems are resolved, then the economy can revive. Kompas daily, September 2, 2020, also reminded, “There is no economy without people, there is no economic recovery without control of the epidemic.”

Grandiose Promises
The government is certainly aware of this. Efforts to overcome health problems continue to progress. Vaccine testing has entered phase 3.

The process will take months to ensure the vaccine works as expected, namely to build immunity without causing harmful side effects. Head of the Indonesian Clinical Trials Research Team, Dr. Kusnandi Rusmil from Padjadjaran University, explained that clinical trials are carried out in accordance with international standards and cannot be accelerated. Thus, accelerating vaccine production is not possible.

In dealing with a mass crisis like this pandemic, there is a guideline for state administrators around the world that is concise and compact: “Under-promise and overdeliver”. The meaning is not to make grandiose promises that cannot be fulfilled in the future. It is better not to promise too much but to do more than what is promised.

The problem is, if what was promised is not fulfilled, the government will lose people’s confidence. If this happens repeatedly, the government will lose credibility. In addition, the message and delivery must be clear and consistent. There should be no “mixed signals” so that people are not confused.

If people lose confidence, they may become apathetic, not caring anymore. Hopefully, what we see every day, where the new normal cannot be distinguished from the old normal, is not a symptom of apathy, but a result of sheer ignorance.

Whatever the cause, the government must immediately think of a communication strategy that is appropriate and easily understood by all levels of society. There is knowledge to examine behavior, as well as to apply the right communication strategy, it only needs to be put into practice.

 

Noke Kiroyan
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 66th Edition, issued on September 2020, page 47.

 

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