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Ho Chi Minh City
Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Media’s role in the reopening strategy

By Le Hoai An(*) & Pham Hoan Vu(**)

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HCMC is beginning a reopening process carried out to support the livelihood of workers citywide. However, risks abound if stakeholders do not proceed carefully or coordinate effectively.

HCMC has proposed some economic recovery plans. However, from the writers’ perspective, these plans have not paid sufficient attention to the role of the media. Media policies have also proven inadequate during the pandemic.

The chairperson of the HCMC People’s Committee received encouraging feedback when conducting a livestream event to address queries on pandemic control policies. Some members of the public have yet to fully comply with the Government’s directives, mainly because of the anxiety triggered by chaotic flows of information.

The media is not yet deemed as a weapon against the pandemic

The media is often perceived as an instrument for enhancing the quality of digital transformation and corporate adaptation after the pandemic. There is not much emphasis on its role in the fight against the pandemic, though.

The chart below shows the timeline of rumors and official information. In reality, most rumors turned into official news. When information asymmetry prevails, the seemingly disadvantaged groups will let feelings dominate reasons. Rumor-based decision-making is socially detrimental as seen by the rush to stockpile goods. Cases often escalate from seven to 10 days after rumors spread. While not confirmed, this correlation suggests issues in ensuring information flows.

During crises, confidence matters. To nurture and consolidate confidence, the media must sustain policy consistency. As people work from home, the virtual world becomes an important source of information. However, it remains unclear where reliable information on Covid-19 can all be found so that the people can protect themselves and the community.

Official information from the Government is critical for shedding light on the severity of the pandemic. The supply of epidemiological data on F1 cases was relatively commendable at the start of the pandemic, but when cases jump, it is no longer useful. Official studies on what causes each wave of infections are lacking, so it remains uncertain whether crowds at supermarkets (where transmission risks are high) or vaccination centers were to blame. Also inadequate are insights on high-risk behavior or the transmission rates for fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Moreover, information management remains ineffective as messages aimed at reassuring the public are of woeful efficacy. To help the people grasp the dangers posed by the pandemic, images or a certain degree of overstatements may help.

The media’s role should be adjusted in economic reopening

Economic reopening will breed inequality as some sectors can recommence activities earlier than others. Some people can return to work while some cannot. The Department of Information and Communications should be a platform where information on who needs support is received, so that the authorities and various associations can help to alleviate the struggle of the disadvantaged and allay their anxiety while they await further policy changes.

There should be a unified source of online information. The website https://covid19.hochiminhcity.gov.vn only provides information on the number of daily cases in different districts, but it has yet to become an efficacious channel for insights that can influence the behavior of the public. The media should raise awareness on the threats posed by the pandemic and the enormous loss that each Covid-19 death engenders. The documentary “Ranh gioi” (Boundaries) by VTV achieves that by reflecting the challenges facing patients, their family members and healthcare workers as deaths loom. This has the capacity for adjusting the people’s behavior.

In the fight against the pandemic, the authorities need the people’s unity and confidence to emerge successful. Compliance hinges on the extent to which psychological and economic issues are addressed. The people must be empowered to play a part in the fight against the pandemic. Whether they make good decisions depends on the quality of the information provided by the Government.

(*)CFA

(**)CEO Washup Holdings

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