Getting the message right
published : 23 Mar 2020 at 04:30
newspaper section: News
The announcement on Saturday that shopping malls and many other services in the capital will have to shut down shows that the government and various agencies have not learnt from recent lessons. In fact, the message will only further add to people's hardship amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
During a crisis, effective communication, particularly from the government and authorities, is vital. Yet it is apparent that members of the cabinet and various authorities have yet to grasp this fact.
The Prayut Chan-o-cha government appears to lack skills regarding crisis communication, a crucial factor which can cause a situation to deteriorate further if not managed properly.
Before Saturday's distraction, the country had already experienced several other confusing announcements.
On March 8, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) announced that travellers from four countries -- South Korea, Italy, Iran and China -- and two territories, Macao and Hong Kong, must produce medical certificates and Covid-19 insurance coverage prior to boarding flights to Thailand.
However, last Wednesday, local media including state-run MCOT Plc reported CAAT's abrupt decision to extend the regulation and list of at-risk countries by 11.
After the announcement, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob denied the report, saying only the Public Health Ministry had the authority to declare such extensions. By the following morning, deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek tweeted the Public Health Ministry had in fact extended the regulation, effective on Friday, to cover 11 more countries.
Yet, just hours later, Prime Minister Gen Prayut announced without any additional details that the regulations would be extended to cover all foreigners from every country seeking to enter Thailand.
Later that night, the CAAT confirmed the order requiring all foreigners to produce Covid-free medical certificates and insurance coverage.
Such apparent flip-flops in policy create confusion for the public, especially foreigners.
Just a few days before this incident, even more confusion was sown regarding when exactly the cancellation of visa-on-arrival and visa exemption services for 18 countries and three other territories was to take effect, again inconveniencing travellers.
Even the matter of quarantine perplexed many. Earlier this month, the government said it would close its quarantine centres and send Thais with a history of travel in at-risk areas to self-isolate at home. One day later, Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda admitted this was a miscommunication and the quarantine centres would remain open.
The mess did not stop there. There has also been confusion regarding important health items such as the availability of face masks. Initially, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanavisit gave assurances there would be no shortage of face masks as the country has a capacity to produce 100 million masks per month; but just a few weeks later, the Internal Trade Department overrode the minister's figure and said the capacity was actually 36 million masks.
These incidents reflect a history of prolonged failure of crisis communications by the government. Unfortunately, Gen Prayut does not seem to be aware of it and has blamed the media for creating confusion.
Such a mindset and lack of awareness during the crisis has resulted in confusion and panic, and undermined public confidence, which can only worsen the situation.