This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML

Govts, companies shifted COVID risk management responsibility to individuals: study

Researchers say organizations could have been more proactive in ‘owning’ responsibility

A new Canadian study has found that over the first five months of 2020, government and corporate approaches to COVID-19 went from taking decisive, collective action against the pandemic to emphasizing individual responsibility.

The researchers say that Canadian policymakers and firms should take more ownership of the challenge, but in the end, “it takes everyone to protect everyone.”

The study, titled “Passing the Buck vs. Sharing Responsibility: The Roles of Government, Firms and Consumers in Marketplace Risks during COVID-19,” is published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Its authors analyzed speeches and tweets by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, as well as tweets and emails from a handful of major corporations, from January to May.

They found the messaging went through three distinct phases, beginning with an “externalization” stage that lasted from the start of the year until early March, in which the virus was largely seen as a foreign problem.

After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, researchers found the message shifted to one of “responsible organizations” — a phase characterized by daily policy announcements, states of emergency, and major shifts in the way corporations operated.

This lasted until mid-April, when researchers found the emphasis was increasingly placed on “responsible consumers.” This phase began “once organizations established the ceiling of their efforts and demanded consumers’ co-operation,” according to the study.

“It was more like, ‘do your job. Do your part. Help each other,’” Charles Cho, an accounting professor at York University and one of the study’s authors, said in an interview on Thursday.

“What we find in general is, we first externalize the situation, then we take control of the situation. Eventually, we sort of ask the consumers to co-operate to help mitigate the risk.”

The authors said the study’s aim is not to lay blame, noting “citizens must bear some of the burden of trying to contain the spread of the virus.”

However, Cho said, organizations could have been more proactive in “owning” responsibility.

“That owned responsibility was just there temporarily, and then it quickly shifted,” Cho said.

The study also found that governments and organizations failed to properly emphasize the interdependence of different groups, instead focusing on the risks to vulnerable populations such as seniors and health-care workers.

This “overemphasis” had one unintentional consequence, the study found: making young, healthy people underestimate their own risk of getting COVID-19 — as well as their role in spreading it.

That’s led to “failed responsibilization, transgressions, and reduced compliance to guidelines such as physical distancing and mask-wearing,” the study found.

Adam Burns, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The coroner on scene of a workplace fatality in Oak Bay on Oct. 20, 2020. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
UPDATED: Dangerous branches delay removal of body in Oak Bay workplace death

Traffic restricted on McNeill Avenue near Byng Road

The Turkey Head Walkway. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Oak Bay community sees untapped potential in Turkey Head

Part 3 of a closer look at Oak Bay Marina and Turkey Head

A bear similar to this black bear was spotted on Elk Lake Drive on Oct. 20 and is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich the night before. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear spotted several times in Saanich likely to be euthanized

Conservation officers still searching for bear reported near Elk Lake Drive

The Saanich Fire Department is reminding rural Saanich residents to be safe and follow the guidelines when the open-air burning season resumes Oct. 16. (Black Press Media file photo)
Open-air burning season resumes Oct. 16 in rural Saanich

Saanich firefighter talks outdoor burning guidelines, fire safety

The West Shore RCMP released these images of a suspect as part of its investigation into a report of sexual assault on Sept. 17. (West Shore RCMP handout)
The West Shore RCMP released these images of a suspect as part of its investigation into a report of sexual assault on Sept. 17. (West Shore RCMP handout)
Sexual assault suspect sought by West Shore RCMP

Police are looking for help identifying this man

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan arrives at Luxton Hall to cast their votes in advance polls for the provincial election in Langford, B.C., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Pandemic election prompts voter suppression claims by B.C. Liberals

‘These emergencies require in us a maturity that has been lacking in politics for so long’

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

Most Read