Coronavirus message not reaching sections of society – police chief

Nazia Parveen North of England correspondent

Some people in the UK are still not getting the message about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and the government needs to be more inventive with its information campaign, a police chief has said.

David Jamieson, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, said certain demographics in the country were struggling to access important information due to language barriers. Other groups, including teenagers, were also not being reached because of the way information was being distributed.

The West Midlands has emerged as a hotspot for transmissions and deaths from the virus. Earlier this week the government said it was investigating anecdotal evidence suggesting people’s religious convictions and fears of social isolation could be leading to a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus transmissions in the area.

In an interview with the Guardian, the Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood said older Muslim and Sikh people in the area were struggling to adhere to government guidelines about physical distancing because of their religious beliefs.

Now it is emerging that language could also be resulting in spikes in certain areas, with certain communities and age groups not fully understanding the new government guidelines and rules surrounding social distancing.

Jamieson, a former Labour MP for Plymouth Devonport, said: “The local news and newspapers attract a certain audience. There are definitely people out there who are not understanding completely what is going on.

“The government need to be more inventive in their approach. There are some households where no English is spoken, so the government needs to make sure they reach out to them.

“Teenagers are also another group that might be struggling to get the right information – they don’t watch the news or read the papers – so we need to use social media to make sure they are understanding the message.”

A month ago, amid growing concern around the world about the pace of the virus’s spread, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the government would launch a mass public information campaign giving advice on how to react to suspected cases and guard against infection.

At the time, a Whitehall source told the Guardian: “It’s as much about winning the battle for public confidence as it is about winning the battle against the disease. There will be social media, stuff on TV, poster campaigns. It will be making sure we can reach as many people as possible.

“It’s making sure that people have got the right advice. At the moment it is very much about telling people to ring 111 … It will be about what people can do to help prevent the spread, like handwashing and using tissues.”

Since then the government’s public information campaign has included advice from Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, appearing in a public advert urging all to stay home and to leave the house only for essentials. Information has also been made available on most government and NHS websites.

However, Jamieson argues that more needs to be done. “We have always taken a hands-on approach in the West Midlands as we have many different communities all living together and we need to make sure we reach those on the fringes. The government needs to do the same.”

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