The coronavirus pandemic struck Ireland in March 2020. Since then every aspect of our daily lives has been altered, and some put to a halt. It is only now, 18 months on, that we can say the phrase ‘going back to normality’ with a bit more certainty in our voices. A global health crisis like this is a trying time and so the need for strong communication is essential. There are many different avenues in the process of communicating such information to a nation. Given the task, how well did the Irish Government fair out?
The main messages were laid out from the get go. Wash your hands, cough into your elbow, keep 2 metres apart, no hugging, no handshakes, stay at home…it rolls off the tongue at this stage. Through daily briefings with Dr.Tony Holohan and advertising across a variety of channels, these core messages were consumed by the Irish people.
The role of social media
Social media played a major role in spreading any updates and information about the coronavirus. By using a variety of social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok etc), the reach increased. Especially for the younger audience who would not consume mainstream media.
There were some hiccups along the way however. At stages there was a lack of cohesiveness among members of government, leading to a confused and frustrated nation. Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar stated varying dates for when restrictions may ease slightly. Micheál Martin also had an incident with his words, in an interview with a newspaper, when he declared an easing of restrictions at the ‘end’ of April when people were under the impression from previous engagements it would be the start of April when changes would happen. It may seem like a small error, yet in a time of such uncertainty, fear and anxiousness, people hang onto any hope they have for change.
Was news broadcasting having an impact on mental health?
There was no worry in securing media coverage of Covid-19 and the messages the government wanted to share. News channels could not get enough of the coronavirus. So much so that it got to a stage where ministers questioned the mental health of the Irish people. This consistent reminder of deaths, hospitalizations and case numbers could not be having a good impact on people who are already struggling to manage with lockdowns.
Overall, the message was clear from the onset. Stay away from each other to keep each other safe. However, as the pandemic progressed some sloppy words and moves impacted the integrity of the communication as a whole. The yellow signage..GREAT. The videos on social media..GREAT. The slip ups from people in power..Not so great. As the saying goes, we live and learn and those interested in the world of communication have no better example than the one happening before our very eyes.