Communication During a Pandemic

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Communication is not only useful during the good times, but adequate communication is also needed more than ever in difficult times such as the one we currently face in the world, which has changed the way we interact, work and live our lives. It is a pandemic that has put the world on lockdown for the best part of two months. Some call it Coronavirus, others call it Covid-19. Whichever you prefer to call does not change the fact that the virus has killed hundreds of thousands globally; it has rendered many jobless and others panicking.

During trying times such as this, communication is of utmost importance. In the early weeks of the virus outbreak, world leaders were swift to address their citizens in order not to spread panic and reassure citizens they were doing everything within their power to put an end to the pandemic.

In Nigeria, however, it wasn’t that straightforward. There were constant calls for the president to address the nation. Before the president finally did, a lot of unpleasant conspiracies had already begun making rounds. That is precisely what happens when there is a perceived lack of communication, especially in a country of over 200 million people.

As much as public communication is critical from the leadership to the entire population during a crisis such as a war or pandemic, interpersonal communication is ahead in the pecking order. This is the interaction between friends, families, associates, businesses, etc.

Keeping interpersonal communication running smoothly is very important to keep the mind and soul healthy. Imagine if you were not able to communicate with friends, family, colleagues during a lockdown period. It can and will do a lot of damage to the mental health of such individuals.

Social media has fostered communication without barriers in the past decade and has become crucial since the pandemic began. Telecommunication networks in Nigeria adopted a unique approach by changing their carrier names to sensitise customers. MTN changed theirs to “Stay Safe” while Airtel switched to “Be Safe”, they have sustained the messaging for eight weeks and counting on customers’ devices. Such messages will potentially reach at least 100 million Nigerians going by NCC figures for both company’s total subscribers.

They did not stop there, in a period where the internet population was clamouring for free data, The telco companies gave their customers access to free SMS while MTN announced that customers could send up to 300 SMS monthly capped at 10 SMS daily.

At first, some grumbled, “what should I do with 300 SMS?” but, after a month the results are in, and it appears that Nigerians have been doing quite a lot with the SMS. According to MTN, the decision to offer free SMS instead of data was because over 30% of its customers are not data subscribers and are among the most vulnerable Nigerians being severely impacted by the virus outbreak.

Who is receiving these text messages? Friends, family, colleagues, associates and loved ones most likely. What are the content of these messages? Words of hope? Business deals? Catching up on lost times? Lending a helping hand? Whatever it is that Nigerians have been doing with these free SMS, one thing is clear, communication with loved ones and friends is essential during a pandemic.

Michael Orodare, Lagos