Position paper roundtable discussion long term COVID-19 policy Julia van Weert

Published on May 19, 2022 – On Monday, May 16, the roundtable discussion on the longer term COVID-19 policy took place in the Dutch Parliament. In the presence of the Standing Committee of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS). ACHC director Julia van Weert, among others, spoke about the role of communication in the longer-term strategy.

The purpose of this roundtable discussion was to prepare the MPs for the committee debate on longer-term corona policy. The general central question was: how is the Netherlands preparing for a future epidemic/pandemic? The program of the round table discussion consisted of seven rounds of 55 minutes, so-called blocks, with a varying number of speakers. Each block looked at the topic from a different perspective or from a different theme. Julia van Weert participated in the block on communication together with Marino van Zelst (former Red Team, researcher and modeler infectious diseases Wageningen University) and Ginny Mooy (anthropologist and former Red Team).

In Van Weert’s position paper, she formulated nine recommendations, which were explained.  Subsequently, the MPs were given the opportunity to ask questions. The first main recommendation Van Weert explained was “Include communication and behavioral sciences in the official policy structure.” The first two years of the pandemic showed that our behavior is the most important factor in spreading the virus. It was precisely about behavior that false assumptions were frequently made, even though this knowledge was available. This can only be truly integrated into policy if it is given a place in the official policy structure. The second recommendation that Van Weert cited was “Keep central control over the communication of national policy.” The longer-term corona policy letter of the minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) focuses on “being jointly responsible.” Ensuring that everyone actually feels responsible requires a great deal of effort from the government to actually reach everyone. If the government does not do this, inequality will increase rather than decrease. It is striking that in the longer term policy letter it is precisely the key point 6 “Communication and Behavior” that is the least elaborated. It is important to manage expectations by working out different scenarios, but it is precisely the most difficult scenario, namely the serious one, that has been worked out the least. Social justice should be a core principle in the elaboration. In addition, it is striking that the confidence in the corona policy of the government in November 2021 had decreased to 15%. To restore this trust and create support, a systematic approach is needed, with a clear and transparent assessment framework, with an eye for justice, and openness about uncertainties. Finally, Van Weert argued that effective communication must always be embedded in a broader plan of action according to the 3-C intervention model in COVID-19 time: Communication, Context, Control. This includes the government creating conditions to promote replication of measures and “making it easy” for citizens and sectors.

Read the position paper by Julia van Weert here (in Dutch).

Read the science review, the other position papers and the report of the debate here.

Watch the debate here.

Watch the Nieuwsuur tv item with the interview with Julia van Weert here.

Read the Volkskrant article here.