Mixed messages

The messages in advertisements about Covid-19 are clear: get tested if you have any symptoms; stay home if you have symptoms; self isolate if you’ve been somewhere someone with the disease has been; use the tracer app.

The message from the reaction to the discovery that a Sydney man has the disease after a wandering round Wellington for a weekend isn’t so clear.

People who were at the places the visitor visited have been told to stay home and get tested on day 5 and stay home until the test result comes back.

That’s clear enough but what makes the message appear mixed is the  lack of urgency in alerting people about which places the visitor had visited.

When Hipkins was asked on Wednesday why it had taken 10 hours between being notified of a Covid case in Wellington and telling the public, he responded: “There was a night-time in between’’.

How would they react if ambulance, fire of police services waited 10 hours to respond to a 111 call because there was a night in between? Shouldn’t the response to a potential Covid-19 outbreak be treated with the same urgency with which emergency services respond?

When Bloomfield was asked why business owners were informing the public about locations of interest faster than the Ministry of Health, he responded: “Our preference is to notify businesses or places of interest before the information becomes public.”

Why? The delay meant that people who ought to have stayed home had gone to work, school and other places where they could infect others if they were infected.

When Ardern was asked why the Ministry of Health had used complicated case categories that were meant to have been discarded, she responded: “Ultimately, the most important thing is there’s clear advice for people and what they need to do, and that was there.”

But the use of the complicated case categories meant advice wasn’t clear.

None of these answers pass the public expectation test that information is passed on as quickly as possible and in a way that can be easily interpreted.

The idea that the Ministry of Health doesn’t operate overnight when the country is potentially exposed to a new outbreak is baffling.

Claiming a business needs to be told it’s a location of interest before the people who visited it only makes sense if the working theory is that staff are somehow at greater risk than customers.

Even if that was the case, every applicant for a Covid-Tracer poster has to give email addresses and phone numbers. It shouldn’t take 10 hours to contact them.

In the case of the confusing category names, they were eventually deleted by the Ministry of Health after Bloomfield asked his staff to get rid of them.

But they’d already been released publicly with the first tranche of locations of interest on Wednesday morning, putting some people into a spin about what was required.

Ardern was dismissive when asked by Newsroom why the lessons hadn’t been learnt, saying the action people needed to take was also publicly available.

That assumes everyone is monitoring the Ministry of Health website, when the reality is many New Zealanders rely on word-of-mouth or snippets of news, which often would be limited to just a case category. . . 

Criticism doesn’t stop there.

People faced long delays and queues at testing stations.

. . .But a woman who was at the Jack Hacketts and Four Kings bars between 7pm and 9.30pm on Saturday, said she was turned away from a Lower Hutt testing centre because it was too busy: “We’re all in limbo. We can’t get a test. We can’t even get through to someone to book a test,” she said. . .

If you think this sounds horribly familiar, it’s because there were similar problems in Auckland during the last lockdown there.

I’m not sure which is worse – mixed messages or failure to learn from previous mistakes.

Both undermine confidence in those who are supposed to be in charge and make it less likely people will do as requested.

One Response to Mixed messages

  1. adamsmith1922 says:

    Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    There are two points worthy of note to takeaway from this excellent post.1 The regime is all about PR, facts and needs are irrelevant.2 Bloomfield and the MOH are FUBAR.


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