Revamped COVID ad campaign still misses mark
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/08/2020 (1008 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After two weeks of steady criticism about the wrongheadedness of its COVID-19 advertising campaign, Premier Brian Pallister has decided to make changes.
Gone is the preposterous “Ready, Safe, Grow” slogan that was featured on billboards and other advertisements. In its place, there is a more sober message that urges Manitobans to “Know the Facts” about the Pallister government’s new pandemic response system.
Revealed a week ago, the new system assigns different colours (red, orange, yellow and green) and pandemic control measures to communities based on the prevalence of COVID-19. Green would allow us to live with very few restrictions; red would represent a return to near-complete economic shutdown.
The premier deserves credit for making the change, which could not have come easily given his legendary stubborn streak. However, there were very few people outside the Tory caucus and cabinet willing to defend the original campaign, which clearly implied that it was safe to get out and start priming the pump of the provincial economy. And for good reason.
Even as Pallister was unveiling the advertising campaign in mid-July, Manitoba’s COVID-19 situation had begun to turn from arguably the best in the country to genuinely worrisome. A surge in infections, many tied to a series of clusters in Western Manitoba, put the premier’s feel-good ad campaign at odds with the increasingly concerned tones of Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer.
As is his style, Pallister remained steadfast in his refusal to admit the campaign was inappropriate despite overwhelming public condemnation. He claimed the advertisements were designed as a way of “educating and reminding people of the fundamentals” of combating COVID-19. Hardly anyone believed that he believed what he was saying.
Although the decision to change course on the advertisements is a good one, it does come at a price. The original $250,000 price tag has nearly doubled to $425,000.
The question left hanging in the air is why the premier went ahead with the original advertising campaign in the first place? The message was inappropriate, and the $250,000 price tag opened Pallister up to a resumption of criticism about his refusal to address the suffocating eligibility requirements that have left hundreds of millions of dollars in economic supports unspent.
Although the decision to change course on the advertisements is a good one, it does come at a price. The original $250,000 price tag has nearly doubled to $425,000. In politics, no good deed – even a genuine effort to remedy a mistake – seems to go unpunished.
Notwithstanding the issue of cost, the revamped advertising campaign still largely misses the mark. The colour-coded pandemic response system is an excellent idea, and explaining it to Manitobans is a worthy goal.
But explaining how the colour-codes work is still not as important as what Roussin continually describes as “the fundamentals” of pandemic control: hand hygiene; social distancing; wearing a mask in any indoor public space; isolating for 14 days if you are returning from a trip outside Manitoba.
The hard truth is that whether we’re in a green state or an orange state, we have to diligently practise the fundamentals, at least until a vaccine is developed.
Will a declaration that Winnipeg has entered an orange or (heaven help us) red state convince us to double-down on cleaning our hands, wearing masks and keeping our distance? That is most definitely the $425,000 question. For now, it’s clear that Roussin’s briefings are not enough, on their own, to ensure compliance.
Self-isolation delinquents risk $486 fine under new public health order
A new public health order that takes effect Friday will allow the province to levy fines of up to $486 per day against anyone infected with COVID-19 — or their close contacts — who do not self-isolate for 14 days, as directed.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the order follows reports that people testing positive for the coronavirus had attended large gatherings in Brandon, where some of Manitoba's largest case clusters are located.
"We developed this order in response to some isolated situations where we determined individuals were not self-isolating as appropriate," Roussin told a news conference Thursday. "The new order provides a streamlined approach to that."
Late last week, a clearly exasperated Roussin issued a public health order authorizing a fine of up to $486 per day for anyone who ignores the 14-day self-isolation requirement. For a public health official who has been reluctant to over-react to any aspect of the pandemic, this was a particularly strong gesture.
The reality, confirmed with every daily COVID-19 bulletin, is that we’re just not living up to the good doctor’s expectations. And that raises some significant questions about why this iteration of the province’s advertising campaign isn’t more explicit.
There is an argument here that we need to be shocked into compliance on the fundamentals and “know the facts” just isn’t as detailed and as impactful as it should be. We need to be told that if we don’t wash our hands and wear a mask, we are at risk of plunging the province back into shelter-at-home restrictions.
However, many Manitobans, including the premier, suffer from a profound misconception about the pandemic: namely, that the novel coronavirus is something we can “control.”
Back in June, when new infections were rare, the premier talked openly and often about the success Manitoba had in “controlling” the virus. The reality is that we do not control COVID-19; it will continue to control all aspects of our lives until a vaccine is available.
Suggesting that we are “winning” the battle against COVID-19 just because we haven’t had a surge in new infections is scientifically dishonest. And arguing that we can, through sheer will and positive thought, eliminate the threat before a vaccine appears is flat out irresponsible.
It’s like telling someone that if they run instead of walk, they can make it through a rain storm without getting wet.
COVID-19 is going to be here for a very long time, perhaps to stay. And when the Pallister government urges us to “know the facts,” they might start with that.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
Updated on Monday, August 31, 2020 9:11 PM CDT: Fixes typos.