The erratic communication of lockdown easing

Leaking non-definitive plans without consulting the affected sectors causes confusion

Understandably, some economic sectors in particular and citizens in general are keeping a close eye on developments in the restrictions imposed to combat the pandemic. For many, it is a near-life situation, because their businesses depend directly on it. Others simply want to know if they will be able to visit their relatives at Christmas. The fact is that, faced with such sensitive information, the government should be very careful about how it communicates it. And unfortunately, this is not what has happened in the last few hours.

Early in the morning, a health plan was leaked that foresees four phases in the easing of restrictions that would end beyond Christmas, and that would begin next Monday allowing the opening of the restaurant in the morning and at noon with a maximum capacity of 30%, both indoors (if it is very ventilated) and outdoors. The Government of Catalonia has made it clear that this is a draft that can be changed between now and Thursday, when it is expected to be approved by Procicat.

The leak caused a very logical discomfort in the sector most directly affected, the restaurant industry, but also in those of commerce, culture or gyms, because the plan had not been discussed with them, not even communicated to them previously. The most forceful when it came to expressing his indignation was the deputy director of Civil Protection, Sergio Delgado, who described it in a tweet as "a lack of respect for the technicians and the work we have been doing for months; for the citizens, who deserve to have certainty and not rumours; for the economic activities affected by this enormous crisis, and for the institutions that represent us".

Delgado, who does not usually make public criticisms, hit the nail on the head. The difficulty of managing a pandemic of these characteristics can be understood, but this does not justify generating confusion and creating false expectations in the citizens and the economic sectors that are having the worst time. The measures must be communicated when they have already been approved, not when they are in the discussion phase, and always after negotiating them with the sectors and, above all, internally within the Government. It is not possible for the Business Department to negotiate with restaurants and hotels independently from the Health Department. The executive must have a single voice when facing the public and decisions must be taken collectively. This is how a government that gave certainty to the citizens would work.

In this context, it is also inadmissible to communicate the restructuring of a department after 10 p.m., as happened on Monday with the Department for Work, Social Affairs and Families, whose head is yet to offer any explanations 24 hours. It is necessary to know what has failed and why some people have been changed and not others. The minister could certainly have done better.

As the experience of the first wave shows, the pace of easing restrictions will be key to keeping the pandemic under control. We all have too much at stake for errors in communication to cause confusion amongst citizens who are being asked to make great sacrifices.

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