Riding the second wave

Jim Preen

Crisis Management Director, YUDU Sentinel

Header Image by Jeremy Bishop

Governments across the world are starting to take some very tricky decisions on easing the Covid-19 lockdown. With this happening will the virus stage a vicious comeback?

The UK government talks relentlessly about taking decisions ‘based on the science’. This is one decision that will have input from scientists but will also require acute political judgement as to how long the citizenry can stand being locked up behind closed doors. Spain and Italy are tentatively easing some restrictions and Wuhan, where the pandemic originated, is seeing something like normal life returning. It’s baby steps everywhere.

When infection rates in the UK start to fall significantly, there will be intense pressure on the government to loosen the reins. But with that comes problems.

Easing containment

Suzanne Bernier, part of the Canadian government’s pandemic planning team, says: “If you start to open up the borders again, take away restrictive measures, people get a little more careless and forget hygiene procedures and social distancing.”

And should that occur, there is every possibility of Covid-19 cases rising once more. Bernier again: “It happens every single time with every pandemic in history there will be a second wave.”

Only when a substantial part of the population has some form of immunity either as a result of recovering from the disease or via a successful vaccine will we be able to look at C-19 through the rear-view mirror.

If a significant part of a population, say between 50% and 70%, has some form of immunity then the virus would struggle to gain a foothold once more.

Unfortunately, even in Wuhan, which accounted for more than half of all the cases in China, it’s thought only around 10% of the population have a degree of immunity. And as we are constantly being told, a vaccine may not be ready for at least a year.

Comms planning

Bernier is concerned that governments worldwide are stuck in a 24/7 reactive response mode and need to start thinking proactively about communications in the event of a second wave.

“They are so busy dealing with something so unknown that they’ve never done before, and not faulting anyone, but the best way to alleviate your communities fears is through proper communications. I think this would relieve a little bit of the panic that would happen again when the second wave happens. Messaging for that exact scenario needs to be created now.”

It’s likely that the lockdown in the UK will be relaxed gradually and will be monitored closely with containment measures reintroduced quickly should new cases of Covid-19 start to spike.

For the government to lift restrictions, perhaps to allow schools and some businesses to reopen, would be enormously welcome. Having to come back to the podium to say sorry but you’d better get ready for lockdown #2 would challenge the most seasoned communicator. Let’s hope government comms teams are already giving this some serious thought, because it’s highly likely that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

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