NCOC plan advocates social distancing during holy month

Published April 20, 2020
Centre’s communication strategy also has a post-Ramazan component. — Reuters/File
Centre’s communication strategy also has a post-Ramazan component. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: With the holy month of Ramazan commencing later this week, the role of national communications strategy for Covid-19 pandemic has become pivotal for containing the disease.

There are fears that the crisis could deepen during Ramazan when worshippers hold large congregations and observe other communal rituals. Those concerns have grown after the government conditionally allowed congregations in the mosques across the country during the holy month. At the same time, infections are increasing in the country where the total number of cases surged past 8,000 on Sunday.

The National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), which is the nerve centre of the national Covid-19 containment activities, has prepared a 48-day strategy, which has pre-Ramazan, Ramazan, and post-Ramazan components, all of which aim at educating and informing the public about the potential risks, advocating adherence to social distancing practices and other containment measures, preparing the people for observance during the holy month under the special circumstances, and ultimately preventing the spread of the disease.

The NCOC’s campaign, which has already gone into the execution phase over the past couple of days, is titled “Zindagi Rawan, Zara Fasla Mehrban”.

It needs to be recalled that NCOC had earlier recommended targeted lockdown and easing of restrictions. Prime Minister Imran Khan had last Tuesday announced the reopening of ‘low-risk industries’. Advice regarding religious congregations was that restrictions should be maintained.

Centre’s communication strategy also has a post-Ramazan component

President Arif Alvi, however, at a meeting with clerics on Saturday agreed on conditionally relaxing the restrictions and a 20-point code of conduct was agreed by the clergy for adhering to the social distancing guidelines during congregations.

An official, while talking to this correspondent during a visit to NCOC headquarters, did not agree to the perception that relaxation of restrictions on congregations, especially for Taraweeh prayers during Ramazan, would undermine the advocacy for social distancing. He was of the opinion that the new situation had added to the importance of promoting awareness among the public. “People should be aware of the risks of not observing social distancing and then they can make informed choices,” he maintained.

Social distancing measures run through all the three phases of the campaign, especially the core Ramazan part that promotes the idea of “every house being a mosque” and the concept of “live Taraweeh” from mosques, which people could follow at home.

The communication strategy emphasises taking measures to protect others in the context of Haqooqul Ibad (observing others’ rights). Avoiding iftar parties and Ramazan bazaars is also a part of the strategy.

The other pillars of the campaign relate to adoption of healthy behaviour and countering misinformation.

The challenge of preventing congregations from becoming a source of further spread of the disease goes beyond religious observances. Eid is normally followed by the wedding season, which also sees large gatherings. Moreover, wheat harvesting season has started in many parts of the country. The communication strategy addresses these aspects as well and messages are being generated to encourage safe practices.

The media priority for the campaign is mobile-phone messaging followed by television and radio. Over a million messages in five languages are being sent out over phones. Similarly radio channels are airing messages in 13 languages spoken in the country. The campaign will, moreover, use 150,000 minutes of television airtime.

The latest communication campaign follows the 50-day-long ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ campaign. The official said the earlier campaign had achieved its targets. Promoting national cohesion and civil-military harmony during the calamity is NCOC’s another priority in Covid-19 containment, he added.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2020

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