Living and Learning from These Unprecedented Times

Living and Learning from These Unprecedented Times

Like me, I am sure most people made the point to be available to watch the daily COVID-19 press conference to understand the latest news on the situation. If it had slipped your mind, because home routines were still in the making, the Indiana Jones moviesque introductory soundtrack beckoned us to the TV to listen to the days events.In the early days of confinement, the press conferences took place around midday. We listened to the doctors, police, specialists, ministers and the prime minister share their concerns, disappointment and pleas for public discipline and collaboration. An overarching message was to respect social distancing and ‘Stay at Home’. 

For many, social distancing was a new term and so it took time to understand its importance, relevance and implementation. Just to recap it means keeping a distance of at least 2 metres between yourself and other people to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus and more importantly by doing this we slow down the spread locally and across the country and the world. In short, ‘keep your distance. We can do this.

As responsible drivers aren’t we familiar with keeping distance with other cars especially if it has the sign ‘Baby on Board’, ‘highly flammable material’ or simply dodging that dangerous driver. If you think well that’s driving we are not talking about driving then think about this … apparently we instinctively know our comfort zone distance – you know when someone gets that little bit too close to us we move back to maintain our comfortable distance. Apparently, this comfort zone is 1.5 metres. So there you go add on an extra 0.5 metres and social distancing will become the newly established yet healthy comfort zone. You may have to raise your voice a few more decibels but rather that then become paranoid about if you have the virus from being too close to someone.

Do not expect this way of being to happen easily. As I mentioned previously, it’s a new term and behaviour and it takes time to act differently. Watching the COVID- 19 press conference panellists sharing a microphone, whisper into an ear, wears gloves or not and share documents during their announcements demonstrated that ‘old habits die hard’.This comment is by no means mean to cause offence but the contrary. My personal thanks and immense gratitude and respect to all those involved in transmitting the daily press coverage, without this one can so easily lose track of the fruits of our concerted efforts to stay confined.  It was also an opportunity to acknowledge how well our small semi-developed island fared with the global superpowers to manage COVID -19. As seen on BBC news on 18th April 2020, Mauritius is now standing taller and can proudly display its swift National COVID -19 Protection Plan trophy for the world to see. I also acknowledge the toil it took on the panellists presenting a daily coverage.  For me it was a much-needed life- line to help the many like me confined at home establish fact from media myth.

Let me return to the social distancing message and other related televised health advice messages. I have been living in Mauritius for a number of years and it never ceases to amaze me why animated posters continue to use White figures to sensitise a majority Black and Asian population.  I cannot help thinking that if these posters reflected the local community it would promote greater connections and relevancy; maybe inadvertently these posters could be reinforcing sa malad pa konsern nou.

It is not easy making 1.2 million people understand in one fell swoop, that ‘prevention is better than cure’ so I have some ideas that could potentially be considered.

  • Religion is the epicentre of Mauritius’ co-dependence. I can understand that televised commercials have drawn on this to remind viewers of their faith and the omnipresent spiritual protection for a devoting country.  Nevertheless, I would be careful that these images and messages do not lead people to believe that the future is out of our hands. We only want the virus out of our hands! Speaking of hands, the projection of handholding, praying close to the face and unity may also confuse the protection plan message. Using community leaders, be they religious or not, was a good strategy.
  • I admired the commercial filmed in the lift. It was clear and powerful showing how quickly transmission spreads.  A man sneezes in his hands, enters the lift, touches the lift buttons, and leaves the lift. The next person touches the lift buttons and the virus begins its journey person-to-person. The viewer understands how the virus is being transmitted because of the infrared thermography red glow colour image. The retake of the same scene shows how easy the man avoids this transmission when he now sneezes into a handkerchief. I am glad to see the handkerchief remains a man’s accessory. The man sneezing into the crook of his arm can be seen as a public faux pas, either way the sneeze has been caught.
  • There is something called desensitisation. The more you see something, whether it is good or bad, over time it diminishes your emotional responsiveness. Think about the bottle of alcohol, ‘drink in moderation’ or the horrific photos of sick people on cigarette boxes. Over time, we disconnect with the health warning and continue to drink or smoke more than advised. The same applies for televised COVID -19 commercials. A suggestion would be to regularly reinvent the same message to maintain impact and public collaboration. Maybe if I can be as bold as to say learn the media tips from the fake newsmakers. How did they appeal to the masses?
  • You want to keep the message real and serious, then why not use real footage of people in quarantine, perhaps those willing and able to be interviewed in hospitals and those who have recovered. We are a small country and I appreciate the importance of confidentiality but with the wonders of technology, I am sure anonymity can be exercised. Watching footage of patients in the UK, USA, Spain and Italy once again may lead people to think sa malade pa concern nou.
  • My ideas can go on, but I would like to conclude with how the televised COVID-19 messages appealed to the youth. OK we know that the younger generation view the world from their smart phone and MBC programmes scores very low in terms of their source of information but that does not mean there is no point in trying. So, what would appeal to the youth …music. Yes- music carries the message. Be mindful of the choice of song… Toxic by Britney Spears, Don’t Stand So Close To Me by Police, Lonely by Akon and Fever by Peggy Lee may not be the optimal choices. Somehow for me, Sega and a happy clappy song does not seem right. Perhaps something along the lines of an instrumental melodic fusion of the latest musical genres, to calm, remind and motivate.  How about TikTok and challenges? Seek and ye shall find – ask the youth what would make them take notice of this public health concern and what is needed to encourage the youth to practice safe distancing.

On a more sober note, everyone has a role to play in slowing the spread and protecting themselves, their family and their community. So, let us remain conscientious and considerate of others and practise social distancing.

Nancy Veerayen

Image: Glen Carrie on Unsplash

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