COVID COMMS: The multiple public sector comms challenges of a move to end restrictions

It looks like we’re at a really odd stage of the pandemic with a UK Government announcement due to end restrictions.

UK Government has announced plans to end legal restrictions. So, no more requirement to self-isolate after a positive COVID-19 result. Free testing also is set to end.

The British Medical Association have described this as ‘odd.’

The World Health Organisation call the plans ‘alarming.

There have been warnings of a surge in numbers.

The UK Government’s own figures show 74 daily deaths and 25,696 confirmed cases.

But isn’t what Boris Johnson said true? That the jabs have blunted the worst?

Public Sector communicators across the UK now find themselves faced with a series of dilemmas.

How do they commmunicate these changes?

Will they?

I’ll dodge the politics of all this and just concentrate on the practical dilemmas facing NHS, police, central and local government comms people.

For police, this is relatively straight forward. The law is black and white. But tempers are likely to fray between those happy and those looking to maintain protection.

For everyone else, this is likely to be trickier.

The legal restrictions are gone in England but will people still ask to take precautions?

Here’s a few dilemmas.

The Boris Johnson trust dilemma

Ipsos MORI’s veracity indsex on trust put doctors trusted by 91 per cent of the politicians and politicians trusted by 19 per cent. Polling data on Boris Johnson himself put him far into negative equity following a collapse in personal trust. He’s not trusted by 69 per cent of the population in February 2022.

So, do public sector comms put the Prime Minister front and central of their campaigns or not?

Will there be health professionals queing up to add their weight to this eye-catching move?

The Trust me, I’m a health professional dilemma

Without the strong support of the NHS and Public Health its hard to see how the rule changes can be communicated effectively in a way that will cut through.

Pressure, I’m sure, will be placed on the NHS to tow the line but will it? And will public health who are at arms length in local government?

Will the message instead by a request to comply with mask wearing and social distancing? Particularly in hospitals and GP surgeries.

So far, as the UK we’ve done comparatively well with complying with messages compared to other countries. The Cummings effect led to a measurable fall in trust. Whitehall’s Partygate did similar.

Will this add to the fracturing of compliance?

The U-turn dilemma

For the past two yearts a central plank of COVID-19 comms has been the importance of self-isolating, social distancing and you playing your part.

Any campaign message that looks to reverse this is in for a tricky time.

Last week it was this and now its that, they’ll say. Which one is it? And who do I believe?

And what about if we have to bring restrictions back?

The anti-vax dilemma

Always through the pandemic there has been a strain who have refused to believ ethe health messages. At the start, it was because it was a hoax. Then it was that the vaccines wouldn’t work. Then that they would give you health risks.

Like playing whack-a-mole, public sector communicators have countered the messages by and large successfully.

Hang on a minute, they’ll say. It can’t be much of a virus if you legally don’t have to stop going to work. Clearly, it was lies all along.

So how does the campaign for a 4th jab work?

The devolved government dilemma

Lastly, Wales, Northern Ireland Scotland can make their own decisions.

Who are they likely to follow?

Medical professionals or a beleagered Downing Street?

Do we trust the Welsh message? Or the English?

Good luck, everyone.

EDIT:

The announcement was made and Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance insisted that COVID-19 still had the potential to be dangerous and more dangerous strains were likely.

In other words, we now have two speed communications. What the politicians say and what public health says.

Good luck, everyone.

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