Amanda Choo Quan

Amanda Choo Quan, winner of the 2020 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize (JAACWP) says a comprehensive communications campaign should be integral in the Government’s efforts in getting across its COVID-19 messages to citizens. She has called for a more collaborative approach from Government and the Opposition to battle the pandemic.

The former communications officer at the UN High Commission for Refugees posted on her Facebook page yesterday:

If I could write a speech for the PM, this is what I would say:

“We are in unprecedented times. And in a strange way, what is happening is because we were so careful. And because we—little Trinidad and Tobago—were one of the first to be so careful. Not the wealthy countries who are now hoarding vaccines in a rush to bandage their own failures. Us. And we as the Government cannot take all the responsibility for doing this. Our numbers were low because you, too, were careful. You cooked in homes without kitchens, some without running water. You stayed in homes that were lonely, that were broken, that were too crowded. You made the choice not to risk your life socialising even though at the time being in the company of other people felt like life or death. You did this because your need to preserve someone else’s life was far more than your discomfort. That we slipped is understandable, given that some of the strictest measures in the world were imposed upon you. It is fair, even understandable, that you feel restless and anxious. That you would give a little time to make yourself feel better in a time that seems to stretch on without end. Lord knows I have done this myself. But you must realisee what this can do….”

And then a direct appeal to the private sector.

“You have to meet people where they are. You have to show vulnerability. To have to understand that the same people were the ones contributing to the low numbers of the past. You have to tailor your communication.

Sometimes I wonder what makes more sense—appealing to our best natures or shaming the worst. What if there was a simple shift in the nature of press conferences—where the focus was on speaking to those of us who are doing what we need to do? On inculcating pride in past behaviour that we can do again? What if we spoke to the limers on the promenade and fixed whatever they were escaping from?”

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian yesterday, she said “I haven’t lost anybody close to me, I’ve just been a citizen observing the press conferences, the rising rates (of COVID-19 deaths and infections) and the fear, particularly the fear expressed on social media.

“I’ve been a writer with almost a decade of communications experience, I as well as many of my colleagues in varying positions of employment because of the situation have been monitoring it and wondering why there is no comprehensive communications campaign.

“I understand that the Government is dealing with a lot right now, but that is even more of an impetus to consider the voices outside of the Government of consultants who would be able to help them to tailor their messages to particular audiences.”

She said the reason for her post was that in her personal opinion talking about personal responsibility only got a person so far, of course citizens needed to be personally responsible everywhere in the world.

Choo Quan said, however, it ignored some of the motivations and reasons why people were choosing to go outside and flaunt regulations. Ordinary citizens were not the only contributors to COVID-19 spread, she said, but also the private sector; spread can even occur in places previously regulated such as food outlets.

The 32-year-old author said the Government needed to have a better way of communicating and interacting with people; not everyone can interpret a chart, responded well to figures, spoke English or was literate.

Choo Quan said just saying people were irresponsible without understanding what they were doing meant they had failed.

She said it was the cornerstone of any communications effort to understand an audience even if they didn’t agree with their actions.

Choo Quan admitted the Government had responded in one of the swiftest and strictest ways to the crisis. She disagreed with the border closure measures but agreed some actions taken immediately resulted in some positive impact on the population.

She commended Prime Minster Dr Keith Rowley on attempting to speak to the world about vaccine advocacy and that poorer countries did not have the same kind of access.