After a summer relatively untouched by COVID19, March saw us back in lockdown here in New Zealand and, as the month comes to a close, we mark a year since we first found ourselves staying home and saving lives. It’s been a year when millions died around the world, millions more suffered terribly from the disease itself, and millions of others have had to endure the devastating societal consequences caused by the pandemic.
For the most part, Kiwis have been spared much of the horror. We’ve lost people - 26 families have been bereaved - but the enormity of the pandemic has been largely viewed from afar. Border closures, contact tracing and huge efforts by people working in managed isolation and on the border have meant we’ve been living a pretty ordinary life, free from the ongoing restrictions experienced by people around the world. Our government has managed the whole thing very well, opting for a health response first, and communication has been exceptional.
Sitting here, a year on from March 25 2020, I’ve only praise for our leadership and officials who have put people’s health first and done their very best in the most difficult circumstances. Public relations and communication teams across the country have worked tirelessly to keep everyone informed and engaged. Interesting then when you look at social commentary, mainstream media or catch five minutes of one of the ‘shock jocks’ on the radio - you’d think we had the highest death toll in the world and there’d been no action by government rather than our actual reality of living with some stability despite being in a period of crisis and managed change.
Change - with all its challenges and unfathomables - and particularly forced changed, such as that brought by the pandemic, can trigger grief. Grief for the loss of a loved one. Grief for a job gone, a career shredded, a way of life marked ‘discontinued’. And that’s ok - grief is perhaps the only normal process to be found in these abnormal times. What often makes the hurt harder is the opportunistic behaviour of those seeking to exploit current circumstances for their own ends - something that has happened throughout history but something that gets no easier with time.
Misinformation and disinformation have, unfortunately, formed an ugly alliance, joined in their union by opposition politicians stirring unrest in a bid to stave off their own irrelevance - none of which helps anyone at all. As we pass this milestone on our collective COVID19 journey, there are tragically many headstones to count - thankfully far fewer than anticipated in NZ at the start of the pandemic. There are many problems to be addressed and solved and, in the exhaustion of an ongoing crisis, actual information is not being shared as well as it was initially but, as I’ve said before, every structure is made up of many individuals, all doing their best in the most difficult of circumstances.
Globally, we remain in the grip of the pandemic and I’ve still got my money on reaching 2025 before we see the beginnings of more stable patterns. We know the old patterns have been shattered - a kaleidoscope shaken and the pieces scattered. As public relations and communication practitioners, we need to help people and organisations make sense of it. To do that, we need to listen and learn. Be prepared to shift our perspective and brave enough to be sense makers as we emerge into an unknown era filled with unfamiliar patterns.
About Think Forward
Think Forward is written by Catherine Arrow. It answers PR questions, highlights practice trends - good and bad - and suggests ways forward for professional public relations and communication practitioners.