HANDS, FACE… SPACE?: COVID is over and what did communications learn?


An important historical event happened this week. Did you miss it? 

Last Monday, it was Bank Holiday Monday. There were scenes of crowds and concerts as part of the country celebrated the Coronation of Charles III. 

Elsewhere, covered almost as an afterthought, the World Health Organisation announced the end of the global emergency phase of COVID-19. 

As humans, we look forward. When we look back we tend to remember the good memories not the bad.

What was COVID-19 to you? If you’re lucky, it was one long blur of lockdown, clapping the carers and queuing outside shops that only let three people in at a time.

Yet, if you’re not so lucky it was grieving the death of a loved one, debilitating long COVID and loss. During the pandemic, 20 million people worldwide died and in the UK 200,000 died. That death rate is five times as many who died in the Blitz that wartime marker of British national memory. 

Yet, right at the start of the pandemic, I remember hearing a radio documentary about the Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed 50 million. It’s predictions were clear. Don’t expect people to want to remember. After its over, they won’t look back. In towns and villages across the UK, there are memorials to the First and Second World War dead. There is not a single memorial to the victims of Spanish Flu.

The official end of Spanish Flu was recorded in a short piece on the inside pages of The Times in 1920.The feeling was in 1920 that the whole episode was so traumatic, so painful and so horrific that it hurt to recall it. Family members more often than not died at home in agony. No wonder the survivors looked to the future.

And so, it comes to pass that history repeats itself. For something so recent, the pandemic feels like a million miles away. Did we really have Tier 1 and Tier 2? And what did that mean? Can you remember? I can’t.

What does this mean for communications? 

During the pandemic the weight of responsibility fell on communications teams. There was so much to communicate to so many different people. Lives were at stake. It broke good people. It broke teams, too. Some truly great work was done by communications teams. Overall, the war was won to persuade the country to accept COVID-19 jabs that saved lives.

If there’s any lesson for the profession it’s this. People forget really quickly. People want to revert back to old ways. In communications, that’s the enemy. Now people have had the experience of taking communications seriously, you need to work at that and not let things slip back.

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1 Comment

  1. We have to be careful not to forget all the key Covid communication touch points – these should be lessons for our future ‘global village’ world. We have gathered a few through our work in Walsall – 1. not all people listen to BBC news, a big number of them opt to alternative country/language. We are more diverse than we care to notice 2. role modeling/championing prevention works, as opposed to myth-busting or ‘tackling something head on! Accessible communication works – videos, photos, one liners! 4. Alternative medicine is a big topic in many cultures. 5. people generally don’t trust their governments – is that the biggest one we learnt?

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