Here’s a revolutionary concept » Governments being open and honest with citizens.
Former US president Donald Trump admitted to playing down the risks of the coronavirus to “reduce panic”. Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, blamed the press for causing “hysteria”. The UK government delayed its lockdown, fearing the British population would rapidly become fatigued by restrictions. And, in my home country of Denmark, the authorities tried not to draw public attention to pandemic preparations in early 2020, to avoid “unnecessary fear”.
But Denmark pivoted to a strategy of trusting its citizens with hard truths. The buy-in that ensued led to low death rates and laid the groundwork for a vaccination rate of 95% for everyone aged above 50 (and 75% for the population in general). In September 2021, my country announced that COVID-19 is no longer classified as a “critical threat”.
When Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced a lockdown on 11 March 2020, the rhetoric of the government had changed towards impressive clarity and acknowledgement of uncertainty. The #FlattenTheCurve graph (popularized by The Economist magazine a few days earlier) was used to show how an uncontrolled epidemic would strain hospitals. This created a sense of urgency and crisis, but not panic. And Frederiksen clearly acknowledged uncertainty. “We stand on unexplored territory in this situation,” she said. “Will we make mistakes? Yes, we will.”