Thursday, 19 November 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank Deputy Higgins for raising this really important issue and for her valid questions concerning the role of advertising and the Government's response to the pandemic. She made a number of significant points about the effectiveness of hard-hitting advertisements and whether the ones currently being used have become ineffective at this stage. As we all know, Covid fatigue has set in and that is a problem.
Covid-19 is a new, highly infectious disease for which there is no cure and, as of yet, no vaccine, although there was some positive news in this regard earlier in the week. The main tool we have to protect against the virus is adherence to the public health guidelines. As the Deputy outlined, those guidelines ask us to wash our hands well and often, practise good cough and sneeze hygiene, wear face coverings in shops and on public transport, stay in one room if we are Covid positive, stay at home if we are a close contact of a confirmed case, physically distance by 2 m from others, and avoid crowds and crowded places. As the only actions proven to work against the spread of Covid-19, these safe behaviours are the bedrock of the communications programmes of my Department and the HSE. Throughout the pandemic, my Department has been working with a Covid-19 communications behavioural advisory group, comprising experts in driving behavioural change, to understand key population behaviours and drivers and inform our public communications activities.
We all know that the virus has not changed since March. It has not gone away. It is still circulating in our community. After the initial restrictions imposed in spring were eased, disease incidence began to rise as we all began to move around again.
Over the past number of months, my Department and the HSE have, in close collaboration, developed numerous advertising campaigns to empower safe behaviours around Covid-19. These campaigns, broadcast on digital platforms, radio and television and in print media include: Covid-19 symptoms and what to do; Covid tracker app; Covid-19 - cases to self-isolate and close contacts to restrict their movements; HSE Bubble campaign reinforcing the additive effect of the public health advice; the #HoldFirm campaign which addresses the fatigue that the public is feeling with level 5; and the Healthy Ireland building resilience campaign. The government is also developing a communications campaign to inspire and empower young adults to live safely within the public health guidelines. This campaign is being developed in consultation with stakeholders representing this cohort.
All of this work is supported by regular opinion polling carried out by a research partner, Amárach. This is published weekly on my Department's website and shows the commitment in the advertising strategy to assessing how members of the general public are feeling, not only about the COVID-19 measures but on a range of issues relating to the pandemic. This ensures the communications strategy has a strong baseline of evidence-based tracking to rely on.
Underpinning all of the activity to which I refer is the consistent yellow look and feel of the Department of Health and HSE public health advice. The distinctive yellow posters and public health logos were a strategic choice. This branding has become synonymous with trusted public health advice and has been consistently used across all of the above crucial communications work. However, I take on board the points that the Deputy has made. People are fatigued with Covid and maybe they are also fatigued with the messaging that we are sending out. I agree that, previously, hard-hitting advertisements have been very effective.