Can the Government communicate “Coronavirus: Disease Control”?


On Thursday 14th May after Parliament had closed for the week, the Government kindly provided an answer to this written question from John Hayes MP who asked it under the title of Coronavirus: Disease Control. Presumably Matthew Hancock was too busy to provide a response so it came from Helen Whatley who is the MP for Faversham and Mid Kent but also the Minister for State in the Department for Health and Social Care. So one might assume that the response would provide some clear words that would assist John Hayes and indeed many other people to understand what the basis for the social distancing restrictions are and when they will be lifted or at least what the current plans are for reviewing them. However the response from Helen was rather hard to understand based on my own grasp of the language and the links. She stated:

On 23 March 2020 the Prime Minister announced several social distancing measures in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. The guidance for these measures can be found at this address. The social distancing measures will initially last for the three weeks from 23 March, at which point the Government will look at them again and relax them if the evidence shows this is possible. At all times the Government has been guided by the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, this advice will be a key factor in the relaxation of social distancing measures. SAGE’s advice is regularly published and can be found at this address.

The first address that Helen referred to was a web page entitled “Guidance – Staying at home and away from others (social distancing)” which according to the page had been updated on 1st May but then immediately below the title is another piece of information which states “This guidance was withdrawn on 11 May 2020” and it then presents a new website address for another page but when one arrives at that page there is another brief piece of information to follow a final link which is for this page which is titled “Staying alert and safe (social distancing)” and this page does finally explain about social distancing as the Government published on the 11th May when this page and several of the others where all published.

So the page was formed four days before Whatley was able to respond to Hayes and one day after Johnson broadcast to us all on 10th May. So given that Johnson called for people to go to work the following morning, one could certainly argue that it was at least a day late for what was needed as well as four days before Whatley responded ignoring the change that had taken place. Clearly it would have been great if Whatley had provided the address for the latest document rather than a page that needed two more connections before supplying the document. However perhaps she could also have referred to another document that had been published on 11th May and which states “You should stay alert when you leave home: washing your hands regularly, maintaining social distancing, and ensuring you do not gather in groups of more than two, except with members of your household or for other specific exceptions set out in law….The government has set out a roadmap for lifting further restrictions and opening more businesses and venues, but this plan is dependent on successfully controlling the spread of the virus.” If anyone was to follow the stay alert when you leave home link it takes us to another page which then provides a link to a page referred to as Staying safe outside your home which was also published the day after Johnsons broadcast and it includes this section:

4. Avoid being face-to-face with people if they are outside your household

You are at higher risk of being directly exposed to respiratory droplets (released by talking or coughing) when you are within two metres of someone and have face-to-face contact with them. You can lower the risk of infection if you stay side-to-side rather than facing someone.

It seems very reasonable that given that Hayes wrote this question a day or two after the various publications that are currently being promoted and also after Johnson had made his broadcast, that the Department for Health and Social Care could have focused on the 11th May rather than the 23rd March given that this answer was intended for Hayes but also for the rest of us. Otherwise why even bother for these questions to be asked or answered in a public setting?

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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