Malaysia was initially lauded for its ability to combat the first few waves of COVID-19 but infection spikes since the Sabah state elections in September 2020 and subsequent exponential increases in both infections and deaths in 2021 left the nation reeling. Nationwide vaccination is seen as the only way out of the pandemic.
Malaysia’s COVID-19 communication strategy was hampered by political machinations and myriad changes in government. The need to shore up favour among the electorate resulted in inconsistent messaging and regular U-turns whenever there was public outrage at arbitrary restrictions. This resulted in confusion on the ground, preventing successful COVID-19 management and containment.
Under the current regime, claims to more accessible data have been disputed and doubts have surfaced over data transparency and accuracy. There is an urgent need to ensure convincingly reliable information, as well as to use more engaging messaging on more suitable media.
A holistic and effective COVID-19 communication strategy should adopt principles from several communication approaches, resulting in messages that are clear, simple and accessible as well as consistent and credible. Audiences should be segmented so that messages can be better tailored to their needs, with adequate information on the necessary steps to prevent infection and spread. Fake news, misinformation, and disinformation should be constantly tackled and debunked.
The Gerai OA and OA Lindungi Komuniti Facebook pages are outstanding examples of grassroots information dissemination channels that effectively provide fact-checked, coherent and accessible information to local communities in languages and on media best-suited to their audiences.