It has become common practice to wear a mask every time we leave home ever since the new normal emerged – especially since we have been bombarded with messages containing the precautionary measures we should be taking. We all pretty much know the basics now – frequently wash hands for 20 seconds, maintain a six-feet distance from people, sneeze into our elbows and more. However, as we adapt to a new normal, there is a lot we are still struggling to understand when it comes to the changing dynamics of daily life as governed by Standard Operating Procedures.
I wondered about the extent of my ignorance when I took my family out for dinner a month ago thinking that outdoor dining timings were until midnight only to discover that another set of SOPs had restricted the restricted restaurants to take away service again. It then struck me that it was not ignorance on my part but misunderstanding that led to this ‘non’ dinner. Last I had remembered, restaurants were supposed to reopen but for some reason, the news that this has been reversed missed me.
When the pandemic first struck and a lockdown was imposed, everything was closed, with only essential services/groceries available until 6 pm; and everyone knew what to expect. Today, however, SOPs are constantly changing based on how high the infection rate and death toll are and given the fact that many of us do not have the time to constantly monitor the news, we often fail to keep up with changes in SOPs.
Some burning questions – can the public go to restaurants? Can they only dine outdoors? What time do shops open and close? Can restaurants deliver? The answer to these questions are constantly changing in different parts of the country without the public being fully aware of the updates, added to which are the rumours and misinformation doing the rounds on social media. Although the government has created a Covid-19 Update Portal, I could not find a single page that told me whether I could go out shopping at a particular time or not. Instead, all I saw were messages communicating precautionary measures and a huge array of scanned copies of government orders, placed in chronological order without any categorisation. As a result, I did not know where to look if I wanted to find specific information about the latest SOPs.
With so many decisions regarding lockdowns and implementation of SOPs changing, there needs to be an effective communication plan to update the public in a timely manner. Furthermore, a single and clear message regarding the effectiveness of all SOPs must be pushed, while making people aware of the existence of such a platform – which can be in the form of a smartphone app or a website.
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising program at SZABIST-Karachi.