A team of academics and researchers, including Australian researchers from Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health, has developed a model of managing food safety incidents, with applications that could apply to pandemic management, particularly for coronavirus (COVID-19). The plan for working through major public food scares could point to the best ways of alerting and communicating with the public.
Dr Annabelle Wilson, a member of the Flinders University research team, said it is crucial that the public does not lose trust in governments and the officials communicating information during a crisis. “The key is to be transparent in messaging,” Dr Wilson said. “Our model was developed to address food incidents and it highlights strategies to use to communicate effectively with the public. The same ideas make sense in a COVID-19 situation.”
The model identifies 10 strategies, including transparency, development of protocols and procedures, credibility, proactivity, putting the public first, collaborating with stakeholders, consistency, education of stakeholders and the public, building your reputation, and keeping your promises. The model has been presented to key government bodies including SA Health and Food Standards Australia New Zealand, with the original work replicated in Ireland.
Dr Wilson noted that in times of crisis — when the public may doubt who they trust — it is imperative that the messages of the food regulators and government authorities are used so that the public can act in line with recommendations. Therefore, the model focuses on how authorities can best communicate key messages to the public — in a pandemic, this involves key behaviours like social distancing.
While pandemic management differs from a food incident, the researchers conclude that many of the strategies identified in their food trust model could be successfully applied to help maintain trust in public health officials prior to, during and after pandemics. “The ultimate goal is to maximise trust between the public and governments in Australia, to support public adherence of public health recommendations in response to COVID-19, such as social distancing and isolation,” Dr Wilson said.
Dr Wilson stated that the researchers would like to test the application of this model in the COVID-19 pandemic context, then roll it out for use by state and federal governments across Australia. A grant application is currently under review to achieve this.
The study, titled ‘Developing and maintaining public trust during and post-COVID-19: can we apply a model developed for responding to food scares?’ was published open access in Frontiers in Public Health. It is freely available here.
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