“Keep Calm and Get Informed”: Risk Communication and Engagement During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Romania

“Keep Calm and Get Informed”: Risk Communication and Engagement During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Romania

Camelia Cmeciu
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6705-0.ch011
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COVID-19 is a new ongoing pandemic and an alarming public health issue which urges emergency measures at a national and international level. This chapter uses a collaborative message-centered approach and explores how the Department for Emergency Situation (DES) in Romania tailored its verbal and visual messages to this pandemic and how the Romanian online users assessed the DES involvement in the risk and crisis management. The quantitative and qualitative content analyses showed that DES laid an emphasis on the narratives of informational responsibility and responsibility in action, whereas online users focused on the narratives of multilayered rationalization and a multifaceted incompetence.
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Serious threats to the health of people worldwide, uncertainty about the transmission or symptoms, anxiety turned into panic, lack of rapid diagnostic tests, media hype are some of the challenges that organizations and publics face throughout a pandemic or an epidemic (Liu, Kim, 2011; Jin et al. 2019; Ali, 2020). The year 2020 added the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic to the already known health epidemics and pandemics (AIDS, BSE, SARS, or H1N1). Firstly identified in China at the end of 2019, within the first two months of 2020 the virus extended from China to over 140 countries1.On January 30, 2020 COVID-19 was declared a global health emergency and 20 days later, it was declared a global pandemic2. The shift from urgency to action is essential during a pandemic since the lives of people and organizations worldwide are affected. Event prohibition, lockdowns, or shutdowns are just a few measures taken by governments in order to slow down the COVID-19 spread and to avoid “lethal capacity overloads of national healthcare systems” (Wenzel et al., 2020, V8).

Romania made no exception to these immediate governmental actions. End of February 2020 was the date when the danger of coronavirus was looming over Romania since 76 persons were reported to be infected with this virus in Italy, in the regions where a lot of Romanians work and live3. The first preventive measures were taken by the Romanian government on February 22, one of them being a 14-day quarantine for citizens returning from the affected regions in Italy, a measure that was later on extended to every person coming from abroad. What seemed to be some remote danger, at that moment, turned into something that had a high risk for Romania.

The Department for Emergency Situations (DES) within the Ministry of Internal Affairs is one of the Romanian authorities which started to communicate instructional messages regarding COVID 19. The first DES Facebook post was on February 24, 2020. Two days later, the first case of Coronavirus was reported in Romania4. This news brought fear and anxiety among Romanians who started to make provisions for a possible quarantine period. In the following days, this state of panic and hysteria was fueled by news media and visual and verbal social media framings of empty shelves or enormous queues in supermarkets. By beginning of May 2020, the situation of the Coronavirus pandemic in Romania was the following: 11,616 diagnosed persons, 3 cured persons, 21 persons in quarantine, and 12,158 persons home monitored and 726 deaths5.

Unlike institutional crises, pandemics facilitate more a two-way communication because “interests are more aligned and a coproduction by institutional actors and publics is called for.” (Hyvärinen, Vos, 2016, p. 97). Since risk communication is defined as “an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions” and since it “involves multiple and competing messages” (Sellnow et al. 2009, p. 4), in this chapter the author will use a perspective of interacting arguments to the crisis and risk communication of the Romanian Department for Emergency Situations (DES). Going beyond an agency approach, the author will employ what Heath and Palenchar (2016, p. 441) identify as a collaborative perspective. The collaborative message-centered approach will be applied to the online content generated on the Facebook page of the Romanian Department for Emergency Situations (DES) during the COVID-19 pandemic by the Romanian authority and citizens. The focus of this chapter will be on Facebook since Romanians have a higher interest6 in this social media platform (11.000.000 users) compared to Twitter (374, 923 active users). The main objectives of the chapter are the following: (a) identification of message tailoring elements and the integrating narratives in DES Facebook posts; (b) identification of the levels of interpretation process and the integrating narratives in online users’ comments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Explanation: Accurate information about what is happening and being done in a crisis and/or risk situation.

Self-Efficacy: People’s degree of conviction that they will perform the activities mentioned in the risk messages.

Action: Specific preparation action steps and specific response steps to be included in a message.

IDEA Model: The acronym of internalization, distribution, explanation and action. Developed by Sellnow et al. (2009).

Credibility: The degree of openness, objectiveness, competence that people associate with the organization sending their risk messages.

Distribution: The form and the channel the message is sent through.

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