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Timelier updates on coronavirus needed via govt channels

In a health crisis, the importance of public communication cannot be overemphasised, particularly in the age of fake news.
The last thing we want is inconsistent information or the spread of misinformation, which will stoke more panic.

The writer wants the authorities to communicate more efficiently as Singapore grapples with an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The writer wants the authorities to communicate more efficiently as Singapore grapples with an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Quek Ling Yang

In a health crisis, the importance of public communication cannot be overemphasised, particularly in the age of fake news.

The last thing we want is inconsistent information or the spread of misinformation, which will stoke more panic.

The public has a duty to verify information with official sources.

This is why the Government has a crucial role in disseminating timely and consistent messages across its platforms.

As Singapore fights the novel coronavirus, the country has also had to contend with false information. Last week, for instance, a doctored screengrab of a tweet, which claimed that schools would close because of the outbreak, made its rounds online.

Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran has said that the outbreak presents a communication challenge.

To ensure a well-informed citizenry, the Government has made communication a key part of the fight against the coronavirus.

Mr Iswaran said updates would be distributed through the news media, the Ministry of Health (MOH) website, as well as the Gov.sg WhatsApp messaging service.

Last Friday (Feb 7), Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) alert to Orange. This means the virus is severe and spreads easily from person to person, though transmission is not widespread for now.

The news media reported on the development at about 5.30pm.

After I read a news report, I checked the Gov.sg WhatsApp service. There was no update (I received the update only an hour later, at 6.30pm).

Meanwhile, I clicked on a link to an MOH webpage that provides updates on the coronavirus in Singapore.

It still showed the Dorscon level at Yellow, the category below Orange.

I refreshed the webpage a while later and it was down for maintenance.

At about 8.30pm, it still showed Yellow. It was updated to Orange only when I refreshed it around 8.40pm.

Public panic and confusion soon followed, and speculation was rife, online and offline.

Some people wondered if the alert had indeed been raised. What does the Orange alert mean? Why raise it now? What precautions should be taken? Why was the MOH webpage down?

Crowds formed at supermarkets to stockpile food and necessities, as photos of near-empty shelves circulated online.

The Government has advised the public to turn to various messaging channels for updates.

We should use them efficiently.

The authorities can also tap digital display panels in public housing blocks.

When a communication gap opens up, other voices will quickly fill the void.

As we fight the outbreak, let us not forget to communicate effectively and responsibly.

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

Related topics

novel coronavirus public communication health fake news

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