‘Be honest about corona crisis. People can handle it’

| Michaela Nesvarova

‘The government is finally very transparent about how they make decisions regarding the corona crisis,’ says UT scientist Mariëlle Stel, whose research focuses on communication during disasters. She gives insight into how citizens should be informed in times like these.

What do you think of the Dutch government’s communication regarding the coronavirus outbreak?

Stel: ‘According to my knowledge, people felt a bit lost at first. They wanted more information, but now I think the government is handling it well. There is a continuous flow of information and it is coming from the same experts, who are deemed credible. That means people trust it more.’

Did you watch the speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte yesterday evening? What did you think of it?

‘It was very wise to have the speech and I thought it went very well. The government finally became transparent and clear about why they take certain measures. That was very good. People don’t like to be patronized. They want to know the truth. The speech made it clear that this is a serious situation. It basically said “this will be big and it will be long”. This gives clarity to the measures and these measures makes people feel more in control.’

marielle stel

Mariëlle Stel is an associate professor at the University of Twente, at the Psychology of Conflict, Risk and Safety group (BMS Faculty). Her research focuses on resilient communication. Within this field, she also focuses on how citizens should be alarmed and informed to keep them safe during disasters.

What are the main principals of communication during a crisis?

‘Let’s start with what not to do. Authorities usually provide information and they think it is all clear, but citizens also need to know what action to take. Because they want to do something, they want to help, but they might take action that isn’t suitable. They need clear guidelines on what to do and not to do. For example, people hear that they shouldn’t go into big crowds so they all race to the supermarket. They are afraid of running out of food, but they are somehow not afraid of actually catching the coronavirus. They have an “it will not happen to me” mentality. But I think our Prime Minister made it clear yesterday. You should be honest about the corona crisis. People can handle it. You need to keep citizens informed. However, it is also important for the messenger to be someone trustworthy and credible. You should always have the same experts addressing people, because that builds up their trust. The Dutch government is doing that now, which is very good.’

Do you have any advice for us, citizens?

‘Follow the instructions. Don’t panic and don’t buy the whole supermarket. And take care of each other.’

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