Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Covid-19 Pandemic

5:45 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I want to raise the need for the Government to rethink its Covid-19 advertising strategy. The message is not tough enough and it is not cutting through. The HSE's advertising campaign has become stale, predictable and it is not hitting home with the entire population. Back in March, we knew very little about Covid-19 or the impact it would have on all of our lives. The message then was that people should wash their hands, cough into their elbow and protect themselves and others. After months of upheaval, a great deal of research and development and, unfortunately, more than 2,000 deaths, the message is to wash hands, cough into one's elbow and download the Covid tracker app. It is stale, predictable and ineffective.

We can do better than this. One of our nearest neighbours, Scotland, is doing better. Its campaign emphasises the frightening ability of the virus to linger unseen. It shows an asymptomatic woman who accidentally infects her grandfather with Covid-19. The advertisement depicts the virus as a visible green gunk that transfers from her hands to the cupboard she opens to grab the teabags she uses to make him a cup to tea. It shows her hugging her grandfather goodbye, oblivious to the damage she has done. It closes with the stark warning, "Do not pass coronavirus to those you love". Australia has embraced very hard-hitting advertisements to ensure its message lands. One of them begins with the words of a young man who infected his mother with the virus. He says:

My mum is in ICU with Covid. We visited her a few weeks ago but I didn't know I had Covid. I had no symptoms.

In a short, sharp, 30-second advertisement, people are encouraged to be Covid safe and to save lives.

Here in Ireland, we are reminding people that Covid-19 is still a problem and encouraging them to wear face masks and wash their hands. We can do better than that and we have done better than that. One need only look to the HSE's QUIT campaign to see how effective advertisements can be. Everyone in Ireland remembers the man talking to his daughter and promising to quit smoking. Everyone remembers Gerry Collins. When he sadly passed away, the HSE told his family that the advertisements in which he featured had helped more than 60,000 people attempt to give up smoking. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, has also run hard-hitting campaigns to crack down on speeding and drink-driving. It knows that the content shocks and scares people but, most important, it changes people's behaviour. We do not like watching such advertisements but we all hear their message loud and clear.

Can the same be said of the Covid-9 campaign or, months on, is it white noise to us? Has it become ineffective? The RSA's Crashed Lives advertisements were rated by the public as the most influential factor in saving lives on Irish roads. Can we say the same for the Covid-19 advertisements? It is time to mix up our messaging and up our game. It is more important now than ever, as we prepare to reduce restrictions, that we are hitting people with the right message, which is to remain Covid safe in order to safe lives.


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