The global public health emergency triggered by Covid-19 demonstrates how important it is for policymakers to engage with the public in combating major health security threats. Panic is always a danger in the absence of accurate, clear and engaging communication to encourage broad public compliance. Many people are already turning to the cluttered digital infodemic on Covid-19, much of which is inaccurate and misleading. The challenge for governments and public health officials is particularly acute at a time when trust in democratic leadership has been markedly declining.
The government’s aim should be to shape public understanding and behaviour in a way that contributes to mitigating the spread of Covid-19. Backed by clear and effective policy planning and implementation, public messaging can be a highly effective way of mobilising populations to become stakeholders in damping down widespread “black swan” societal threats like this virus. Can the experience of governments overseas help Australian policy-makers to do this as effectively as possible?