Another Sunday and another set of Sunday newspapers that are talking about possible next steps in the UK government’s pandemic plan. There is no clarity on what is fact and what is speculation. Whether it has been deliberately leaked to gauge public opinion, I will let others debate. What is concerning me more is the discussion of dates in the future.
If we are to believe some of the articles today we will be eating picnics after 8 March, will be going to the pub by Easter and will have the nine outlined categories of people vaccinated by May. After reporters have discussed these dates we are hearing in their next breath about the more than 600 people that died of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours. Set this in the context of nearing the first anniversary of the initial lockdown and it raises some alarm bells.
People have been struggling with lockdown part three and there is a need to give them some form of hope for the future. We have seen this before. Comments still ring in my ears about the pandemic being over by Christmas, that we have beaten it, and that we should eat out to boost the economy. All of these have been shown to be wrong and for me have added to the sense of frustration with the situation. No-one knows exactly how this will play out. We can plan, prepare, theorise and postulate but we cannot provide certainty. Politicians would do well to remember this.
In a crisis the communication is not the same as during political campaigning. There is no room for over-promising, filling in the gaps with assumptions, and false hopes. People need honesty, clarity and to be part of an ongoing conversation. It is critical for those in charge to be listening and discussing rather than just dictating. Trust and confidence in the response are never going to exist in a world of broken promises.
We now clearly have two crises taking place. The first is the Covid-19 pandemic and the second a crisis of confidence in the UK government’s response. Those involved in communication around the situation need to understand what is happening and build a response that takes it into account. There is no simple messaging and I don’t think after the first couple of months there ever was.
Let us start to have an honest conversation about the future, about what we know and what we don’t know. Let us be clear about the next steps without putting uncertain dates next to the plan. And let us move forward together to get through this crisis.