- On 19 March, the federal government came into the picture with the Prime Minister calling for a Janta curfew on 22 March. While his initial two televised addresses were widely acknowledged and boosted public morale, there has been criticism that it lacked clarity and detail. States like Kerala and Maharashtra did implement a comprehensive and holistic crisis communication strategy by clearly and repeatedly communicating official statistics, respective governments’ action plans and also precautionary measures to be observed. These interactions, though repetitive, minimised the scope of any undue panic among the public. The state of Tamil Nadu has done the most testing and Delhi is doing aggressive contact tracing.
- At the central and state level, in the absence of a centralised messaging guideline/framework, there have been different approaches used in conveying timely and accurate information to the public, a key requisite of effective crisis communication.
- A representative from ICMR (Indian council of Medical Research), which is among the triad of organisations tasked with epidemic handling, has been missing in briefings since April. NCDC, the Indian equivalent of US’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) has had little to no role or say, constrained by personnel shortages due to budget cuts and lack of clarity on its role.
- There has been criticism that the communication has not been inclusive and that it has been allowed to paint a certain community in bad light. There are numerous fake videos across platforms that depict the community as irresponsible and vector of the disease. This has eased to some extent in June/July. Despite having a vibrant media adept at amplifying messages tothe public, the Indian government has instead been trying to curb its freedom in many ways, like approaching India’s apex court with a direction to stop them from publishing/broadcasting news on the pandemic, without checking with the government.
- The Prime Minister led the communication outreach himself, leaving the communication of INR 20 trillion COVID-19 relief package to the Union Minister of finance. His choice has been televised live addresses, monthly Mann Ki Baat radio broadcasts or tweets from his official handle. Curiously, he kept away from any formal communication on Covid-19 once cases increased exponentially. And the federal government even more moving away leaving it to the states to handle the crisis on-ground, except for monitoring.
- According to a report by fact checking website BOOM, Covid-19 related fake news began climbing in March third week peaking early April, particularly after the Tablighi Jamaat incident in Delhi. Fake news is even more crippling in India, as the 376 million Indians on these platforms are more susceptible to it, worsened by sloppy regulation of social media platforms. A case-in-point was the fake news about how consuming chicken could lead to Covid-19 infection. This spread causing a US$250 million loss to the local poultry industry, as many people stopped consuming it. While hundreds of attackers have been arrested and several social media platforms warned, fake news around the virus continues to flourish, significantly impacting India’s fragile intercommunity relations and creating numerous hurdles for the federal, state and local governments, in their fight against the pandemic.
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