Ceturtdien, 30. septembrī, veselības ministrs Daniels Pavļuts piedalījās starptautiskajā Eiropas veselības forumā Gasteinā, Austrijā, kuru organizē Eiropas Veselības forums, Pasaules veselības samits un Eiropas Veselības savienības iniciatīva (EHUI).
Veselības ministrs Daniels Pavļuts forumā sacīja uzrunu, kurā dalījās ar Latvijas Covid-19 pandēmijas pārvaldības pieredzi:
“Thank you very much for looking into questions about conflicting information during Covid-19. I’m honored to be on this panel and add my remarks.
Let me add another some thoughts to the topics – the strategic use of conflicts and differences. In politics, each difference is used to justify somebody’s interests – economic or political. Or as is often the case – both. Usually, these aren’t false statements, rather, partial, simplified, out of the context, or outdated. But all of them – appealing and convincing for the general population, promising easier solutions. And as a small country, we mostly rely on findings and experiences of others, and so do other parties, greatly increasing the variety of conflicting data and approaches. And it’s not only cherry-picking of scientific findings or facts. More often, we hear contrasting bits and pieces of policy approaches used by other countries or epidemic indicators there.
Our problem in other words is weaponized selected, partial truths.
So, what are the most common strategies used?
The first strategy – “this is not serious, enough with that”.
Latvia hasn’t seen infection rates as high as our Baltic neighbors or the worst examples on TV so far. We had a exhausting, prolonged high-level incidence rate plateau in the spring. So, every day we heard comparisons and arguments that “nothing bad is happening” and let’s open everything up.
And now with Delta and vaccinations. Most commonly, we hear “research” that this Fall infections don’t lead to hospitalizations. And about much easier restrictions elsewhere and why don’t we do the same.
Missing the full context – that Latvia has a vaccination rate among those countries in Europe, which have full vaccination rates in 40+% range. These are all Eastern European countries. And we do see a high infection, hospitalization and mortality growth in data similarly to our peers.
Unfortunately, to counter these arguments, we can’t just provide more accurate data and research. The population treats pandemics as “new normal” and is tired of data. Our population, as well as consequently – political class, have gone largely covid-deaf.
Yes, simple, bold graphs do help, but, also, we need to win “hearts” and more provide real-life stories and evidence if we are to get through to people and decision makers.
Another strategy – “this is the wrong approach!” or “it doesn’t work!” – commonly known as “this is illogical”
We usually observe policies in other countries and follow how they work there, as well as apply elements of those in our practice. So do other parties, to question our approach and credibility, selectively of course.
Usually, they pick examples of relaxed measures and argue that our policies are wrong. What is missing here – the context, both epidemiological and also cultural, economic, social. In this case, Gormley’s classic policy salience-and-complexity quadrant helps. Covid-19 policies are both salient and constructed as “easy”, so we have two strategies.
First, by quickly solving the most salient issues. This moves other decisions out of the public arena and they can be discussed more professionally with the relevant degree of complexity and professional detail.
Second, by increasing the complexity. It means reconstructing the full context around the examples of the other party and providing a more nuanced context on our situation. With increased complexity, the issue also moves into professional decision-making. But this might often not be available due to previously mentioned covid-denial.
Besides these two public strategies, we see conflicting arguments used daily to influence decisions at the professional level, frequently between experts and politicians.
In this case, transparent, rational and honest communication about the decision-making helps.
Using scientific experts, consistently sticking to their advice, constantly referencing to them and promoting them, giving them their own voice instead of re-telling their suggestions.
Certainly, not all political decisions follow their advice, so they criticize. Scientific understanding evolves, and we need to admit mistakes or outdated policies, which inevitably triggers criticism towards scientific expert opinion from people and pundits. A poignant case in point is the ongoing discussion regarding 3rd doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
I remember a quote, attributed to Henry Kissinger (apologies if I got that wrong) that there is nothing more alien to mode of operation of a successful politician than the mode of operation of a technocrat, an expert. This is certainly true in Covid context.
Still, respecting the opinion of scientific experts and sticking to their advice increases credibility in the longer term, that is my stance in any case.
They will not convince people who lost all trust in the government, but they will help to maintain the support of those that still put their faith in critical thinking, evidence based policy making and sound judgement. And I’d like to think that these people are my voters at any rate.”