[A special message from Mr. Amit Upadhyay, Editor-in-Chief, The CSR Journal]
As people around the world deal with the COVID-19 crisis, we must keep reminding ourselves that in times of heightened anxiety and stress, we must change the way we live.
Governments, institutions and businesses are jostling to cope with a highly uncertain and rapidly evolving landscape with varied approaches and results. Even countries with well-established healthcare systems have failed to efficiently control the outbreak. Hence, it is imperative on our part to reduce the pressure on our healthcare system by promptly attending to the early symptoms and not contributing to the oblivious spread of the virus.
Tackling COVID-19 in India
Those leading the community response to the novel coronavirus crisis must help their people move through this huge setback. The right engagement tactics can do wonders to shorten the span and magnitude of the disruption, while giving people the much-needed self-conviction that “this crisis will fade away”.
The key I think is to engage people in the right way, with the right flow of information. Our Central and State governments are taking all measures to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic but I feel that a few more steps could make their efforts more impactful and fruitful.
It is often seen that during crisis and under stress, people react more favourably to trusted messengers or individuals they know and respect. So it is imperative to choose messengers who have demonstrated credibility and have been effective in past situations. Sending regular latest updates on the response to the outbreak and implications from a single credible source could help recipients easily scan them to see what’s new. This simple formatting trick could greatly improve communication of critical information.
Choose the messenger
Consider who is most impacted by the crisis and who has the greatest influence on those people. In a corporate environment, an employee’s direct supervisor is the best bet to communicate messages and motivate the right behaviours. Depending on the circumstance, another office leader may be the right choice, too.
Similarly, there could be special groups assigned at the city, state and national levels. Almost daily, this group could take standard messages received from the Centre, State or city heads and tailor it to their local needs which could then be sent out by the local credible representative who is more likely to be trusted. This will feel more caring and will also be more impactful than a blast from various sources on print, electronic and social media platforms only confusing and terrifying people more. Also, all media platforms should be advised or instructed to only run a maximum of four bulletins a day which have to be more informative than daunting. All the information to various media platforms should be shared from a single duly authorised source at the city, state or national level. The government needs to take immediate measures to prevent fake and bogus messages on all social media platforms.
Who delivers the message matters and so does the way it’s delivered. It is critical during times of crisis that every communication begins with empathy. We have to first and foremost diffuse anxiety and get people ready to listen to the facts.
Trust can be built in many ways. One is to be open and transparent at every turn. As part of its coronavirus response, the government of Singapore has established a WhatsApp-based system to deliver daily updates to over 500,000 subscribers, providing facts and figures to back up its recommendations. Officials use the platform to highlight current actions and mitigation plans, as well as a readiness to scale up those emergency plans if necessary. The updates give citizens confidence that plans are in place and things will return to normal relatively quickly.
It’s important to understand that pushback―or resistance, as we like to call it―is inevitable with any type of major change. Resistance can actually be a positive sign, evidence that people are hearing your message. It is a natural reaction to feeling a loss of control. People are no longer able to operate as they had expected, and that’s uncomfortable.
The early response in Italy to the partial restrictions issued at first in the north, exemplifies the resistance phenomenon. After a presumed period of shock, denial and anger, many residents entered a period of bargaining, the “you should make an exception for me because” stage. Many continued going about their daily lives. The virus spread rapidly as a result.
I am highlighting this example not to cast blame but to illustrate that the reaction is totally normal and to be expected. Italy’s more recent implementation of a nationwide restriction on movement and closure of non-essential businesses seems to have been more successful. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte asked Italians to join him in an “I Stay Home” pledge. He urged citizens to make a common sacrifice to protect the elderly and avoid overwhelming the health system. His messages were full of empathy and clear facts, painting a picture of why this was necessary. Conte’s approach helped his people move quickly through the resistance curve, accept the change and stay home. In times like these, we have to keep reminding and discussing with our people why things need to change and how to make the change happen.
Spread by silent carriers
Although India has reported much lower numbers of COVID-19 cases as compared to many other nations, India is a major cause of concern for global healthcare experts. Low levels of testing, poor access to health along with dearth of hospital beds and ventilators put the world’s second most populous nation in a critical situation. While India’s preparedness to handle a healthcare emergency is still questioned by many, a more pragmatic way to diminish the chances of community transmission will be to efficiently practice all precautionary measures, attend to the early symptoms and reduce widespread infection by the ‘Silent Covid Carriers-Spreaders’.
While most discussions about this pandemic have been revolving around the number of positive cases and deaths, it must not be forgotten that globally lakhs of people have already recovered from COVID-19. More than 70-80% of all cases are mild. Many would have recovered on their own without needing any medical attention.
Experts also reveal that a vast majority don’t even realise they are infected. However, this asymptomatic population, who have no idea of being infected, could be spreading the disease to others, making the epidemic harder to contain. So, what if you are one of those seemingly healthy ‘Silent Covid Carriers-Spreaders’ who could, in all innocence, be passing the virus on to others? We have to assume that each one of us are carriers and act accordingly. That would be a more sagacious approach to bring in self-discipline, not just for now but also for future.
We have to obviously abide by social distancing and self-isolation, but living in a densely populated nation like India, it is important for each one of us to be responsible citizens and take necessary precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the disease in the community. We are overdependent on others for our well-being, which is not the best approach in extreme crises. Do we really have to rely on others to take care of basic things in our lives?
Guidelines to overcome the crisis
I would urge you all to be responsible human beings and follow certain basic guidelines to help us all overcome this crisis:
1. Be proactive. If you have any of the known signs of COVID-19 including dry cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, headaches or body pain, isolate yourself from others in the family. Call up the local helpline in case you experience two or more of these symptoms.
2. Even if you are healthy, it is important to take good self-care during this infectious season. At any point, if you feel unwell or find it difficult to cope with symptoms at home, speak to your medical adviser.
3. Limit stepping out from the house. Always wear a mask while outdoors and try maintaining a distance of at least 6 ft from others. Avoid touching doorknobs, lift buttons, etc. with unwashed hands. If you are having any mild symptoms, make sure you stay at home and self-isolate in a bath-attached bedroom, preferably with minimal contact among members of the family.
4. Maintain personal hygiene. Try to use hand sanitizer and soap on a regular basis. Disinfect the frequently touched surfaces of your house every day.
5. Try to minimize contact with elderly members of the family.
6. Drink plenty of fluids since viral infections can lead to dehydration, or vice versa.
7. Eat more balanced meals and cut out junk. If you are feeling loss of taste or appetite, it could be an alarm sign. Consume natural immunity booster foods like garlic, ginger, yoghurt, broccoli etc. to fight incidences of infection.
8. You will need 6 to 7 hours of restful sleep. Practice indoor fitness routines to ensure you stay fit throughout this lockdown period. Avoid strenuous activities in case you experience any flu-like symptoms.
Mild symptoms which don’t improve within a week through self-care need to be brought to immediate medical attention. Incidences have shown COVID-19 can worsen quickly among the vulnerable groups. This includes people with a history of heart, respiratory, kidney diseases, diabetes or immune deficiency, those above 70 years, who are on oral steroids or have had a solid organ transplant. These high-risk groups will need specialized care. Despite having extremely mild or no symptoms at all, you could still be spreading the disease to many healthy people or endangering the lives of the vulnerable.
We are all guided by a sense of moral purpose and deep-seated authenticity. This combination of purpose and authenticity gives the ability to lead through times of fracture and fear. COVID-19 is shining a light on the challenges of leading through change and crisis; we can certainly make better decisions today by learning the lessons of history and experience.
I want to help fight the battle against this invisible enemy. If you want to be an integral part of my battle, I would urge you to contribute by being responsible towards yourself, your family, your community and your Nation.