Unclear messages only increase audience anxiety

The government’s attempt to gag Nphet is bad behavior at best. It also risks being counterproductive. Our political leaders and scientific experts must work together and craft a united message for a sometimes confused audience in this time of continuing crisis.

The tension between politicians and experts is not a new concept. Politicians must sell tough measures to a reluctant electorate. The attention of scientists is largely limited to pandemic realities and they need not worry about their re-election.

But these tensions need to be managed in a way that keeps in mind the general welfare of the Irish public, who have been exemplary in their cooperation with public health boards. Ideally, the tensions could be exploited to achieve the best possible result for the audience.

The key point that should not be forgotten by our leaders is that their decisions have a direct impact on people’s lives. Public confidence in these decisions is paramount to the success or failure of the battle against Covid-19.

Yesterday there were disheartening connotations to the revelation that all communication between Nphet and the general public is to be handled through the government information service based in government buildings. Until the end of last week, Nphet’s communications were handled through the press office of the Ministry of Health.

It would be very wrong to regard this change as something trivial or pedantic. Effective public information is essential to the success of the campaign against the virus.

The government insists it is not trying to gag Nphet. He says the change is an attempt to have a more consistent pattern of direction for the public.

But the tensions between experts and political leaders cannot be hidden. These tensions lead to a waste of time, which can then undermine our strategy against the virus.

A critical setback in relations between Nphet and the government came after the experts’ recommendations were leaked to the government last Thursday evening. Discussions about the source of the leaks, and worse yet, whispers about investigating such leaks, still border on farce.

Greater transparency is needed at all stages of the decision-making process so that citizens can make informed decisions about their lives. The Irish are essentially fair and the majority are realistic in their demands, as they appreciate that our health authorities are faced with a rapidly changing situation.

That being said, many sections of the public were faced with some very confusing messages. The risk is that it will get worse, seriously disturbing people as Christmas approaches.

We have seen nightclubs open to fully vaccinated people, only to be effectively closed weeks later. In schools, we have seen a mass of confusion regarding the introduction of systems for wearing masks, tracing contracts and filtering air.

It doesn’t matter to the general public whether Nphet or the government are largely to blame for these muddled communications.

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