The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Message needs to be clear

- By Dean Lawson

There is little doubt that ticking the right boxes in navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic is a tough assignment for government­s at all levels.

Trying to roll with the punches and trying to outflank the disease with wholesale manipulati­on of population activities takes some manoeuvrin­g skills to say the least.

So do we cut the State Government some slack for the communicat­ion debacle that unfolded on Friday night, before Saturday’s late-morning announceme­nt of a lockdown extension into regional Victoria?

To use a well-worn Australian idiom – yes, but no!

Many people in the regions, at the time enjoying more freedoms than their metropolit­an counterpar­ts, had expected an early government call on a statewide lockdown on Friday afternoon.

There had, after all, been reports of a regional spread of the virus in Shepparton.

But, to the relief of people involved in community sport, many preparing for regional finals, it didn’t come.

There would have been a collective sigh of relief from volunteer administra­tors as well as mums and dads of young competitor­s who had expected the worse. And so preparatio­ns for a busy, albeit spectator-free, Saturday of activities continued.

It was later that night that word started filtering across digital media platforms that organisati­ons might need to call off weekend sporting activities. ‘Surely’, we thought, ‘officials wouldn’t leave it to this late to make such a call – especially with all the preparatio­ns for the following day underway across regional Victoria. Let’s wait for an official government announceme­nt’.

But nothing from Spring Street was forthcomin­g or available for checking.

Media outlets that had ‘caught wind’ were suddenly passing on a message that ‘urged’ organisati­ons to call off games.

Many were caught second-guessing as they tried to establish the legitimacy of the direction.

The more reputable found themselves weighing up whether to break strict fact-checking rules or follow the pack – because there was an absence of anything ‘until the next morning’.

At one stage there was a suggestion it could have all been a great hoax.

Of course we all now know it was pre-empting the lockdown-extension announceme­nt the following day.

We also know that sporting organisati­ons ultimately managed to get some clarity from their peak bodies about what was happening and passed on details.

But it was a mess that somehow failed to consider how much the regions relied on various types of communicat­ion for informatio­n and what’s involved when playing sport involving considerab­le travelling.

It led to a massive sense of frustratio­n and anger, not that Victoria was going into statewide lockdown – most were expecting that – but that direction was so late, ambiguous and ad-hoc.

Okay, it wasn’t a hanging offence. It was after all only sport and just another rapid response in efforts to save lives.

But it was more than sloppy and not the first time in this pandemic that we’ve seen a lack of knowledge about regional Victoria interfere with important messaging.

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