The new COVID-19 Public Advisor, David Ellis, has identified rebuilding public trust in COVID-19 figures and using the full force of the media in support of vaccinations as two immediate priorities.
Ellis told journalists: “On many occasions, people have said the numbers on the dashboard don’t add up, and this has been a regular complaint since I have been here.
“If people don’t trust information it will be hard to mobilise them to get them to do what they ought to do. We have now been able to get a surveillance officer and epidemiologist to work with the people at Harrison Point to get those numbers and we hope that we can correct that dashboard problem.
“It is important because if it is not addressed, we will create an environment where people think the figures are being ‘cooked’ and they don’t trust them. It is not that information is being withheld deliberately; we just have to do more work in getting our numbers and data.”
The retired broadcast journalist said there were a number of different approaches being considered and already being implemented to encourage Barbadians to get vaccinated and thereby give themselves greater protection from the virus.
“We are examining initiatives aimed at trying to address exactly that,” said Ellis. “There are different methods that have to be used, such as community engagement, influencers, all forms of media and all of this is under active consideration.
“As of last weekend, we have been involved in an exercise with the radio stations getting their support to remind people where the popups and vaccination centres are and what times, as well as reinforcing protocols. We find that people are more driven by what announcers say rather than jingles, so we want them to own this information and share it regularly with the public.”
But Ellis called for an end to messages being put out on social media that seemed to be aimed at derailing the health authorities’ efforts to combat the pandemic.
He told journalists: “There is a body of opinion trying to derail this effort, and it is difficult for us to understand why anyone would go to the lengths some have to undermine the public health system of Barbados which belongs to all of us.
“If you do something that will make it difficult for doctors to communicate with relatives of patients because they feel uncomfortable, creating a climate of fear, you are taking us down a slippery slope.
“We are calling on Barbadians to be sensitive to this kind of behaviour and the danger it poses. If you get information like this, desist from forwarding it, because what good does it do? When we undermine our health care system it makes all of us vulnerable.”
Ellis said that the time had come for Barbadians to take the pandemic, in particular its Delta variant, much more seriously. “We still have too many complaints about people having fetes and making noise beyond the curfew times; people gathering in shops close to one another and not wearing masks and we have people in the community responding to that,” Ellis said.
“Let us look at the Delta variant in this way: You know if you see a rat around your home, you have to think about all the others you have not seen, and the Delta variant is just like that. Delta is all around us so we should not be targeting any one specific area. Some of the behaviour we are seeing suggests there are still some who think they are not vulnerable and that is why we are in this position today. We have to assume it is in every corridor and take it far more seriously.” (DH)