By Mufaro Nesongano – Corporate Communications and Media Practitioner.
Up until late last year, a number of us had not thought or heard about Wuhan, which is the capital of Hubei province, in the People’s Republic of China and the epicentre of what has become a global pandemic.
Further to that, COVID-19 or the Coronavirus was not a virus we had paid much attention to. However, over the past few months, it has brought so much turmoil and exchange of messages that none of us ever imagined.
The World Travel and Tourism Council has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could cut 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry. It estimates that Asia is expected to be the worst affected, and once the outbreak is over, it could take up to 10 months for the industry to recover.
In Namibia, the situation is no different, with some lodges having to suspend their operations or close down due to the number of cancellations being experienced.
One recent report supplied directly to Forbes.com found that 6.7 million people mentioned the Coronavirus in one day (on February 28). Many newspaper articles that have come out in the past few weeks have spoken about the hysteria that this virus has caused. A simple cough in a crowded room will result in people thinking that you are infected with the virus.
However, with every crisis, they are fundamental lessons that we, as people and businesses, can all learn from. This is why, since the announcement of the two individuals that were infected with the Coronavirus in Namibia something that stood out and needs to be applauded is the useful and timely communication that has occurred.
Naturally, as people, we yearn for more and rapid information; however, verified and timely information is better than fast and unverified information as we have come to learn.
Having spent over 17 years in the media and communication field, I cannot avoid but accept that we are living in uncertain times where nothing can be taken on face value. Fake news/disinformation has disrupted the way we work and communicate and more so in the past few years. They have been so many instances where information that is shared on WhatsApp or other social media platforms has gone viral causing untold consequences.
The unfortunate thing is that most of us tend to believe what is forwarded to us and immediately forward it to our networks. WhatsApp as a platform has tried to mitigate the spread of fake news by limiting the number of forwards one can make and as a country organisations such as Namibia Fact Check are there to verify the information which we are unclear about.
However, what is very crucial for individuals and organisations is to be effective communicators. Key to this is ensuring that whatever communication needs to be disseminated is done by someone who can be trusted. In the case of Namibia, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, Minister of Health & Social Services is this person that as a country we have tasked to be our source of the most up to date information about the COVID- 19 updates. In organisations, this person can be the Communications/Public Relations (PR) Practitioner.
Equally, it is essential to provide room for the sender to be questioned after they have disseminated the relevant information in the event something is not understood.
Over the past few days, we have seen countless press conferences that Dr Shangula has held to clarify and verify whatever information is not clear. What is centrally crucial in all our efforts as we communicate is, to be honest, and transparent with our public. To think that people do not know or will not find out is only setting ourselves up for failure.
If anything, what the Coronavirus has shown is that, the better-informed people are, the better decisions they can make. As we venture into the unknown, the question I guess we are all asking is, when will all this end and what effect will it finally have on us and our country. As we move into the future, effective communication will be crucial for better decision making.
In conclusion, a post by Bertus Struwig pretty much summed up the situation and communication systems brought about by COVID-19. “As we prepare ourselves to send our staff to work from home and our children to start returning home from universities to continue their studies online. I realise with a shock that the COVID-19 or the Coronavirus is busy forcing us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which fundamentally changes the way we live, work and relate to one another.
It is a new chapter in human evolution with social distancing becoming the norm, and I cannot help but worry about those people who are not going to adapt into the new way we will practice family life, work, study, religion and socialise. Only our Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are fully prepared for this new life. This is a Big Bang evolution which I was not ready to take until the Coronavirus arrived”.