European governments have struggled to manage pand

European governments have struggled to manage the pandemic well and maintain public confidence, finds an analysis of the handling of the COVID-19 crisis by Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, published in the journal free access BMJ Global Health.

A lack of transparency around policy decisions, mixed messages and increased questioning of the legitimacy and technical capacities of government have fueled public mistrust, the researchers conclude.

The governments of Germany, Sweden and the UK have all taken different approaches to dealing with the first and second waves of the pandemic in 2020. And researchers wanted to know which of those strategies, if any, worked well. , with a view to informing future preparedness for similar crises.

They focused on the differences in government structures, the role of academics / scientists, and communication with the public – especially amid scientific uncertainty – between the three countries in 2020, in accordance with a previously released resilience framework. (Blanchet).

The researchers mapped the legitimacy of governance and decision-making; the interdependence between the community and other actors, including scientists and the media; official messaging; and the ability to cope with uncertainty.

They analyzed each country’s policies in relation to these elements, drawing on information from government, public health agencies and media websites as well as published research.

The three countries detected their first cases of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection, in January 2020, triggering their first responses, but they only began to act more decisively when community transmission became apparent in early March.

The analysis revealed marked differences in responses to waves 1 and 2 of the pandemic, which were related to pre-existing governance structures, the traditional role of academia, experience of crisis management, and communication of uncertainty, all of which have influenced people’s confidence. their government.

Germany allowed for broad academic participation and societal debate, but unlike the UK, it lacked demographics on which to base decisions. However, the media were willing and able to reflect the evolution of science and the difficulties of translating science into politics.

But the uncertainty and lack of evidence on how best to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic – the main feature of the first wave – has only been communicated explicitly in Germany, the researchers note.

While this made it much easier to adapt the messages over time, it overwhelmed the nation in Wave 2 and the government came under heavy criticism as a result.

In Sweden, communication of uncertainty was seen as inappropriate on the grounds that it could stir up fear; different points of view were not heard and scientists and academics were largely excluded: the government instead delegated the management of the pandemic to its public health agency.

The loss of public trust has been less in Sweden than in the UK or Germany, but this approach could have hampered a more critical debate, and it remains to be seen what impact the virtual abdication of responsibility will have in the long run. government, according to the researchers.

In the UK, academics and scientists have played a key role in generating information and forcing the government to reconsider its strategies. But that meant the public was then subjected to confusing and rapidly changing public health messages.

The governments of the three countries have lost the confidence of their people. The YouGov COVID-19 tracker revealed that people trusted their governments more in the first wave than in the second, with the largest drop in trust recorded in the UK, linked to lack of transparency in the government decision-making process.

“Our hypothesis-generating analysis suggests that the framing of crisis preparedness and resilience should encompass governance structures beyond health that allow (i) strong and legitimate leadership, facilitating decentralized action; and (ii) relationships of trust with scientific and advisory bodies.

“A media structure ready to communicate science and facilitate debate appears to foster resilience,” the researchers conclude, adding, “Transnational learning should trump nationalism.

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