Three of the nation’s top public health officers have said it was difficult to explain the complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic to the general public, while one has admitted communicating uncertainty “is something we could have done better”.
The health chiefs of Victoria, NSW and Tasmania have reflected on how they communicated to the public during the pandemic, saying it had often been difficult to explain the complexity of COVID-19 – especially as new variants began to evade the vaccines that had drastically reduced the virus’ fatality rate.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said it could also have been better explained that just because a variant was milder, that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t have a huge impact, as was the case when the Omicron variant pushed hospitals beyond capacity.
“Communicating uncertainty and what the evidence tells us now, but also openly acknowledging that evidence could change and we are going to have to respond to that, is something that we could have done better,” Chant said.
As most Victorian mask mandates are lifted on Friday, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the country needed to learn from parts of Asia where it was more socially accepted and common for people to wear face coverings when they were sick or during virus seasons.
“I think the easy bit about mandates is that they create an instant social norm,” Sutton said.
“People are given explicit permission to wear them and they see everyone else doing it and they feel much more comfortable and motivated to do so as a result.
“We’re now in a space where if you don’t have to, there’ll be a few people out there, but you’ll be in a minority if you do so, and so there’s a genuine peer pressure against it.