The sudden rise in the number of cases of Covid-19 has caused serious community concerns. Given the devastation that is being caused by the dangerous pandemic, prevention requires even more than eternal vigilance. Anything done to create complacency among the people works in favour of the virus.
The art of war against this kind of deadly, fast spreading virus is different to military warfare, which is fought by those who carry and use arms; the battle against a pandemic is fought by the community itself. Here, what happens in the minds of the people, their attitudes and resilience is the ultimate and most effective method for success.
The most important leadership quality required in this fight is to engage in effective messaging that enables the full and willing cooperation of the community.
Messaging is not a difficult art, judging by how effective it has been when used for wrong purposes. In fact, Sri Lankan expertise has proved frighteningly effective when false messaging is used to achieve petty ends such as getting more votes or justifying socially harmful actions.
However, pandemic messaging has been in the opposite direction. The constant message passed on in recent months was that Sri Lanka, due to its great leadership, has overcome the problem when even greater countries have failed. Such messages repeated over and over again creates complacency among the people; they happily give up social distancing, wearing of masks, washing hands frequently and staying indoors.
When messaging is a call to celebrate our great success, people respond by giving up inconvenient practices that are necessary for their safety and of others. Such messaging has had a deadening effect on the sensitivities needed to gain community participation to overcome the problem. Mere curfews and lockouts are not enough, although these may be necessary when things get out of control.
It is not only on the Covid-19 issue that wrong messaging is causing serious harm to society. It affects every aspect of life and society. In controlling crime, for example, a few people belonging to the drug mafia are caught and then a big messaging campaign starts to tell people how effective our crime control system is but meanwhile the criminal investigation system is virtually dead, and every kind of crime is on the increase. No one feel protected.
The same is true of all other pressing problems, including the system of governance. Every kind of wrongdoing is accompanied and followed by clever false messaging strategies – that people should not know the truth has become the motto. The central strategy is to give credit to the head of the state, no matter what happens. Just as in North Korea, everything is fine all the time because the great leader looks after them all.
Then, Covid-19 re-appears, to mockingly have the last laugh.