Coronavirus

Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic: Mainstream media – bordering on reckless.

London Evening Standard newspapers with a headline about the latest on the rapid spread of the Chinese-source killer Coronavirus on their front pages, are displayed at Victoria station, on 30th January 2020, in London, England. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)

It is reported that the Coronavirus pandemic is the biggest global crisis since World War 2.  A war is finite, it’s tangible, it can be seen, it’s capable of being stopped by human will; by signing a piece of paper; this pandemic has none of these characteristics.

How we rationalise, what is essentially, an invisible “enemy” that was largely unknown  just a few months ago is still novel. We rely on the Government and the media to communicate with us. However old, tired methods of journalistic challenge in the adversarial “tit for tat” world of politics is no longer relevant for a subject of this nature.

When is “The Peak”

The regular question by the media in the daily Government Press conference is “when will the peak happen?”. Yesterday, the suggestion was seriously posited by some that it might even be Easter Sunday (12th April) – nice headline!

The notion that there is a “peak” at one point in time, and that it can be predicted or even identified is extremely naive – a totally pointless and superfluous question.

The peak, can only be identified in retrospect.

For example, in Europe, Italy is the furthest advanced in the virus pandemic

It would be reasonable to say, now, that the number of daily cases is reducing and that, the peak was March 21st – 2 weeks ago. No one would have said, on March 21st, when the numbers were generally rising each day that that was the peak. No one would have predicted that in the middle of March.

Did the daily deaths in Italy peak on March 27th?  The likelihood is not.

The narrative should be around trends, and not about specific dates – but then trends don’t make good headlines!

Daily death counts are not a surprise.

As the daily death count in the UK rises it is presented in the media as a surprise, that it is shocking that it continues to increase. Yet, a few weeks prior they had been reporting an increase in the number of infections. If, for example,  there were no new infections, the daily death count would continue to rise for a few weeks. How would the media report that?

In my article last week “Coronavirus – Covid-19 : Making sense of the Numbers and weathering the storm” when the most recent daily death count in the UK was 181 (total 465), it stated that the count would exceed 500 per day, and there would be 6,900 deaths in 2-3 weeks.

Since then (9 days) there have been 3142 deaths; the remainder of the 6,900 deaths are expected to be reported during the next week.

Chart from March 25th article

This prediction is simply based on the fact that, consistently across a number of countries,  the total  number of “closed cases” ( deaths and recoveries) equates to the total number of cases around 2 weeks ago. As the curve has steepened within that period then it is to be expected that the number of deaths will follow that trend.

On this basis, the daily death count in the UK will hit 1,000 per day from about 7/8 April; 2,000 per day by 12/13 April, and then 3,000 per day shortly thereafter.

The media should be asking questions as to why the Government is being circumspect about this inevitable situation and not being open and mature about the level and broad timing of deaths? The daily drip feed of “bad news” in the absence of context is quite damaging to the viewing public.

What about the numbers of people recovering?

Based on the reported numbers there have only been 135 recoveries in the UK; this has been static for many weeks. This is extremely low compared to all countries.

Is the figure correct?

Is it low because the reported cases are based on testing only in specific situations? i.e.  given that, in the UK, testing is only done on people who are sufficiently unwell to require admission to hospital, then a higher proportion will most likely die.

It is recognised that there may be a time lag between people being discharged and being reported but, at this stage, it still would be expected that the numbers would increase to some extent.

At present ~100% of reported cases die! Is that the official position?

No questions on this subject have been asked in the Government press conferences.

Comment

This is a difficult subject – it’s people’s lives. In this unique situation there is some responsibility to be mindful of the consequences on the public and not to undermine the value of the messages which will see us exit this crisis.

Unreasonable journalistic hindsight is pointless. Many reporters are searching for an angle which is ill-informed, and sensational, leaving the public confused and unnecessarily anxious. This is irresponsible. Yes, hold, the government to account but it needs to be insightful and intelligent – at present it’s bordering on reckless.

There are still plenty of good questions to be asked…

 

 

 

 

Categories: Coronavirus

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