The Financial Express

Needed: A 'people-first' language  

| Updated: April 16, 2020 22:08:49

Needed: A 'people-first' language   

The Coronavirus pandemic has led to global socioeconomic disruption, postponement or cancellation of sporting, religious, and cultural events, and widespread fears of supply shortages that have instigated panic buying.

The technology industry, in particular, has been warning about delay in shipment of electronic goods. According to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom, the demand for personal protection equipment (PPE) has risen 100-fold and this demand has led to the increase in prices of up to 20 times the normal price and also induced delay in supply of medical items for four to six months. This has also caused a shortage of PPE worldwide, with the WHO warning that this will endanger health workers.

As mainland China is a manufacturing hub, the viral outbreak has been seen as a major destabilising threat to the global economy.

Bangladesh has raised its infectious disease response level to the highest and declared an emergency-type of lockout locally, declaring nationwide public holidays for weeks.

The political, cultural, and socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic may together cause major changes in human society. This may include an increase in remote work, localisation of global supply chains, and increased political polarisation.

There are reports of the labelling and stereotyping of Covid-19 sufferers who are treated separately, and perhaps discriminated against, leading to loss of status because of a perceived link to the disease. The primary success factor in any response to communicable diseases is trust in the healthcare system.

However, there are tips on how to address and avoid compounding social stigma. Words can perpetuate existing negative stereotypes or assumptions, strengthen false associations between the disease and other factors, create widespread fear or dehumanise those who have the disease. This can drive people away from getting screened, tested and quarantined. A 'people-first' language respects and empowers people in all communication channels, including the media. In fact, words used in the media are especially important, because these will shape popular language and communications on the new coronavirus (Covid-19). Negative reporting has the potential to influence how people suspected to have the new coronavirus - patients and their families, and affected communities - are perceived and treated.

It has been suggested that the pandemic could cause a "revolution in working from home" as many major corporations have transitioned to telecommuting arrangements in order to slow the spread of the virus. This effect has also been observed in the rise of online learning in higher education. Additionally, there could also be a longer-term reduction in business travel and international conferences, with virtual substitutes replacing them. A more widespread reversal of globalisation has also been discussed, especially in regard to supply chains.


Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid is a retired Secretary to the Government and former Chairman at the National Board of Revenue (NBR).



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