Governments across Canada grapple with COVID-19 messaging amid holiday season

Managing the COVID-19 message has been an uphill battle for governments trying to get buy-in from members of the public to change their behaviour.

“This is crisis communications like none other,” City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross said. “Breaking through all the noise out there is very very challenging, so you do need to find creative ways.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory has appeared in several Tik Tok videos in an effort to reach younger audiences.

As people make holiday plans, governments are doing everything they can to convince people staying home is the best decision.

Jessica Mudry, an associate professor of communication at Ryerson University in Toronto, said in some cases health messages are not getting through because of a lack of trust and transparency.

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The Alberta Government released a commercial that took a humorous approach. It showed a COVID-19 character coming to a house for holidays, illustrating the health risks of gathering together.

While the commercial grabbed people’s attention, Mudry is not sure it will change habits.

“Just because people are talking about it doesn’t mean that is going to translate into human activity, and human behaviour that we want to see,” she said.

Lindsay Finneran-Gingras, VP of social and digital with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, said early on in the pandemic simple fact-based ads were front and centre. Now, Finneran-Gingras predicts there will be more of a shift to messages that try to elicit an emotional response.

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She said ad campaigns for COVID-19 would be most effective if all levels of government coordinated their efforts.

“People don’t know the difference between governments, so let’s make sure the messages in markets are consistent,” Finneran-Gingras said. “If men want a humour campaign, let’s give them a humour campaign. If for women with children it’s about the emotional play of keeping your grandparents safe, let’s have that message clear, succinct and emotional.”

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Infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla said fear-based tactics never truly work and can have disastrous implications.

“It actually can push away others,” Chagla said. “The ones it pushes away sometimes are the ones that take the highest risk.”

ICU doctors said finding a way to get people on board is time-sensitive. As of Saturday, Ontario had more than 260 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. Doctors said the province is on track to surpass where it was at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in the coming week.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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