Poor government communication caused COVID-19 panic in South Africa
This 2020 study reports high levels of panic and a lack of communication and guidance from the government in South Africa during the COVID-19 outbreak. When people panic during a disease outbreak it can cause serious negative impacts on livelihoods, the economy and politics.
Researchers noted high levels of panic in South Africa and the rest of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began late in 2019. It is important to understand the cause of this panic so that the government can find better ways to communicate public health issues.
In this study, the researchers sought to understand why there was high panic worldwide due to COVID-19, and how the panic affected South Africa. The researchers also wanted to understand how authorities were communicating with the public on national issues. They also compared the South African response to other countries.
The researchers looked for insights from research papers, media stories and social media platforms, about how people were reacting to the outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa on the 6th of March 2020. The researchers also analysed how the government was communicating with the public at that time
They reported on 317 extracts of people’s reactions. They found the public did not trust the government because of a lack of communication. To them, the lack of communication meant that the government was not prepared to manage the outbreak effectively.
Study results showed that South Africans felt helpless and did not know what to do. However, this panic was unnecessary because studies have shown that South Africa was well equipped to manage COVID-19.
The researchers further showed that reactions in South Africa were similar to other countries like America, China, Iran, and Britain.
The researchers said when the public is panicking due to a disease outbreak, it does not necessarily mean the government is not doing enough; but the panic should guide authorities on what could have been done or can be done in the future.
The researchers said their study results cannot be applied to other contexts or areas because they only sought to understand the views, opinions and insights of South Africans.
The researchers recommended that governments should educate the public about disease outbreaks by communicating with them as soon as an outbreak starts. The researchers also recommended studies to understand how children respond to disease outbreaks.
Lack of proper messaging at an outbreak of a novel disease causes panic with more serious damaging impacts on livelihoods, social-fabric of communities, economic landscapes, and political stability. There have been notable high levels of panic in South Africa and the globe with regard to the outbreak of COVID-19. The current lack of knowledge and poor communication has been attributed as a precursor to the skyrocketing global panic (Freimuth, Linnan, Potter, 2000). Fuelling this panic is the rate at which the incidence of new infections is increasing in countries outside of China, with Italy and Iran leading on a number of new infections and death cases.
A Content Analysis method was used to analyze articles, media clips and social network reactions to the outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa on the 6th of March 2020. The key to the investigation was to understand how authorities are communicating with the public on matters of national concern – regarding how they are prepared to deal and handle the outbreak. This study further compares the South African response to China at the outbreak of SARS in 2003. Codes were generated in targeted media and scientific sources and themes were generated and presented.
Findings indicate that the general public does not have faith in government authorities, due to a lack of communication. It is perceived that lack of communication is indicative of a lack of preparedness. Contrary to evident panic in South Africa, scientific data indicates that there is no need to panic as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19. Further, a study from the French Institute for Health and Medical Research in 2020 on the preparedness of African countries to handle COVID-19 indicates that South Africa is one of the better-equipped countries in Africa to detect and handle any incidence of COVID-19. The study recommends that authorities and policy-makers use communications to educate the public far earlier at the onset of epidemic outbreaks, regardless of where it happens as the air-traffic connects global countries, resulting in the potential for disease importation.
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