In a Twitter string Saturday, the Great Barrington Declaration expressed concerns over messaging about the COVID-19 variant strain in light of UK PM Boris Johnson’s recent press conference:
Government messaging has become progressively hyperbolic and confusing. Balance and perspective is in short supply. As a result, the information we receive often feels alarming and frightening.
Trust is a vital component of effective public messaging, erosion of it is deeply concerning. Disconnection between governments, local level management and society. Information given without context is harmful. A recent advisory report suggests.
“Ministers adopt a more straightforward approach to communicating with the public, taking care not to send out conflicting messages, admitting mistakes, foregoing “hyperbolic language and rhetoric” and adopting “an open dialogue rather than speaking at the public”.
Has this advice been heeded? Did yesterday’s UK briefing clearly communicate information accurately and clearly? Was the information presented openly?
The news of an increased mortality risk with the UK variant is based upon conclusions from a Nervtag meeting held on Thursday. Full report here.
Concerns that the variant may be more deadly should be taken seriously. However, the evidence drawn from the paper is weak. Nervtag concluded that there is a “realistic possibility” that it could be more deadly. This means that scientists are 40-50% confident that something is true.
Clear, accurate and understandable government messaging is essential. Information should refer to evidence and offer analysis to convey complex and complicated issues. Without this the communications drive public and media panic.
The format and delivery of the briefings have often been criticised by the press, by advisory groups and the by public.
At the time of the Downing Street Briefing the WHO were also holding a conference. Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergency programme, appealed for the public to ‘remain calm around the issues of these variants’.
Without honest and balanced public messaging, that effectively conveys risk and that draws upon evidence and analysis, the public trust in government decisions and it’s advice, will continue to decline.