Communication is key to containing COVID

La Trobe researchers, commissioned by the World Health Organization, have highlighted the critical role of public health messages in promoting physical distancing.

Their report, led by Dr Rebecca Ryan Senior Research Fellow with La Trobe’s Centre for Health Communication and Participation, assessed feasible and effective approaches implemented worldwide to promote physical distancing to contain the global spread of COVID-19.

It identified the importance of adapting to address diverse and changing needs of the community over time.

“As vaccines roll out, these messages and measures continue to play an important part in all aspects of social and economic life,” Dr Ryan said.

“It’s vitally important that we understand the best ways to communicate with the public to promote and support acceptance, uptake and adherence to physical distancing.”

The review, commissioned by the WHO European Office, is expected to be useful for policy makers working to encourage the public to maintain physical distancing.  It presents evidence-based approaches, and highlights the importance of:

  • Clear and timely information that is continually updated so the public is accurately informed of the level of risk and how to protect themselves
  • Combining information campaigns with practical measures, including access to essential services, food, medicines and financial support
  • Understanding and addressing existing inequalities, such as health service access, health literacy and socio-economic status, which can be exacerbated in a pandemic
  • Tailoring communication content and methods to reach specific audiences from different language and cultural backgrounds
  • Clear communication specific to school and workplace measures

“Public trust in authorities increases when those authorities work with the community to tailor messages to the specific needs of diverse groups in the population. Such community engagement enhances message reach and adherence to physical distancing measures.”

Dr Ryan said the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting and evolving effects.

“We must address the growing inequalities related to physical distancing measures. As the pandemic continues, public attitudes and behaviours will change and new challenges for prevention and control of the disease will emerge.”


The WHO Health Evidence Network proposes policy options, not recommendations, for further consideration of policy-makers to formulate their own recommendations and policies within their national context.

The Centre for Health Communication and Participationwas established in April 2009 at La Trobe University. The Centre’s mission is to improve health communication with and participation by consumers and carers through evidence-informed policy and decision making. The Centre also houses the work of the Cochrane Consumers and Communication group.

Media Contact: Kathryn Powley | | 0456 764 371