There are reports today that the UK Government may be considering removing the mandatory requirement to wear face masks. It is part of a number of measures that may disappear as a move towards the end of lockdown restrictions. Within the media there is a lot of discussion about the fact it will be less of a ‘being told to’ and more of ‘your decision to’. And what we are likely to see is people’s approach to risk management being put under pressure.
For my own perspective I am 50 and have seen a number of friends very seriously ill, although not hospitalised, with Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated. It has made me particularly wary about being too relaxed about the situation because I really don’t want to face the same level of illness. I already know that I will continue to wear a mask indoors, when I go shopping, when I go to get petrol and when I may go for a coffee. In fact, I am likely to avoid going for a coffee in busy times when the restrictions are removed. I will wait to see what happens before I put myself at further risk.
The big challenge in this is that people have not been given any support to be comfortable with looking at the risks and making the decisions. I fear we may see a total relaxation followed by yet another lockdown towards the end of the year. There has been no discussion of risk during the past 16 months and many will believe everything is ‘back to normal’ on 19 July when restrictions may be removed. If cases rise, and hospitalisations may increase, there may easily be a backlash with people surprised that the risks are still high.
I talk a lot about risk management to communicators in my day-to-day work. The approach is clear: identify the risks, understand the risks, evaluate the risks and then manage the risks. The training is focused on organisations and communication but is equally applicable to personal approaches to risk. But all this has to have a firm foundation in the facts of situations and many may feel those facts are scarce at the moment. You have to search out the relevant information and with so much conflicting data being able to analyse the situation is challenging.
Moving forward and into a possible recovery from Covid-19 should not be about a ‘return to normal’ or going backwards. A strong recovery comes from looking forward, learning from what has happened, understanding the impact it has had on us, recognising the issues we had before Covid-19 hit, and then equipping ourselves to define what lies ahead. This balance of risk management and recovery will not be straightforward. There will be twists and turns along the way.
What matters now is that we can see the position we face clearly and that, as at the start of the pandemic, we come together to face the future.