The COVID Communication Kaleidoscope

Crispin John

In the Welsh Government’s latest efforts to go off on a frolic of their own, they have announced their vision for 30% of the Welsh workforce to work remotely. This doesn’t just mean working from home, however. They also say they are going to investigate the possibility of using local “hubs”. They claim;

“These hubs, within walking and cycling distance of people’s homes, could be used by public, private and third-sector employees. They could also help encourage new partnerships to develop between Welsh Government, local government, industry, and others.”

Meanwhile in London, Boris Johnson has ordered the Civil Service, and everyone else to get back to work, but the Welsh Government have dictated that people should “work from home where possible.” Furthermore, meetings or gatherings indoors even within extended households must be limited to 6 people, meetings outdoors are still just about permitted so long as social distancing is maintained, and finally there’s been some movement on face coverings. Yet it’s a different picture in England, and Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Looking at COVID-19 messaging across the UK is like a communication kaleidoscope. Every time you look, you will see a different pattern.

Anyone looking at the pictures in the press of some of the bars in Cardiff City Centre will understand the potential problem, and it’s a rise in COVID-19 cases that has caused the first Welsh local lockdown in Caerphilly County. Perhaps too little was done on face coverings too late. Maybe too much hope has been clinging to the possibility of a vaccine. Unfortunately, the Oxford vaccine trial suffered a setback last week when it emerged that a volunteer had become seriously ill. The trial is resuming this week, but concerns have been raised about whether progress is too rushed.

The greatest menace, in my view, is the conflicting barrage of information. It is, to a large extent, not helped by the fact that the devolved administrations are doing their own thing, but that’s not the only problem. The media have their part to play in making it clear in their coverage which rules apply to which part of the UK, but even that isn’t easy. Scrolling through the Welsh Government website, you will find it difficult to see which regulations or guidance apply in any given scenario because it’s cluttered, technical, and is as easy to navigate as the Bermuda Triangle.

The Welsh Government may well aspire to create community hubs for people to work remotely, and surely there’s no harm in exploring that possibility. Obviously they’ll have to sort out the Superfast Broadband programme first – in some areas of Wales it’s still quicker to send a carrier pigeon – and many people have complained about slower internet speeds as more people have been online at home.

The clear priority of both the Welsh and UK Governments, however, should be to avoid a second lockdown. The country cannot afford it for a start, and politicians realise that it would be as popular with the public as a fart in a broken-down lift. Inconsistent and inapproachable messaging on COVID- 19, together with aspirational announcements about possible future policy, is not just unhelpful. It is downright dangerous.

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