Quicker than the virus itself, news about COVID-19 has spread around the world like wildfire.
With such extensive coverage in the media – with newspapers, websites, bulletins and blogs all grasping for your attention – it’s hard to know who to actually pay attention to, whose voice can and should cut through the crowd.
Except it isn’t. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be so difficult. With so many people vying for your attention it can be distracting and exhausting to figure out who’s right. But we should be listening to health experts, people with actual experience of these types of outbreaks and knowledge of the best practices to put in place to combat them. Not newspapers who want to grab your attention with worst-case scenario headlines, or editors who lead their reports with the biggest, scariest figure they can think of.
Frankly, there’s no point listening to these people who preach what might happen if something else happens and if another thing potentially takes place. Get to the end of those articles, however, and you’ll see researchers saying their projections are ‘highly uncertain’ and their outcome is just one of many possibilities.
Dig a little deeper, on social media for example, and you’ll find Facebook groups proposing the outbreak is a cover up for new 5G technology having adverse affects on users, or it’s all part of covert ‘biological weapons testing’. Hopefully, of course, we’re all getting better at spotting fake news like those just mentioned.
On the other hand, we don’t want to go too far the other way, and be dismissive of something that is a global concern. The president of the United States, for example, told Fox News he had a ‘hunch’ the World Health Organisation (WHO) was reporting ‘false numbers’. This too is truly alarming, because while no one wants to induce panic among a nation, neither should one encourage others to be blasé about it and not trust the very organisation working to deliver facts to the public – and we can’t stress this enough, the WHO are delivering FACTS.
Trump to Hannity on WHO saying coronavirus death rate is 3.4%: "I think the 3.4% number is really a false number. Now this is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations … personally, I'd say the number is way under 1%."
Astoundingly irresponsible. pic.twitter.com/uC9c03zX31
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 5, 2020
The WHO and the National Health Service (NHS) are here to help – it’s there in their names, they’re looking after your health. They’re not trying to sell newspapers, get to the top of a Google search, or make you panic-buy loads of toilet roll and tins of baked beans. They’re working to get the facts across, not spread fear over worst-case scenarios and apocalyptic ‘could-be’s. And they’re certainly not working to distract you from the true cost of Brexit or recognising coronavirus’ potential to derail their re-election campaign.
Yes, coronavirus is a worry right now, and yes you should definitely be washing your hands, but if you dig into the actual facts, it’s nothing we’ve not seen before. And, reassuringly, experts are working to contain and cure it.
By now, thousands of cases of coronavirus have been reported and, tragically, people have died. But the numbers are far less than some would have you believe.
Take the UK, for example. As of March 8, more than 23,000 people had been tested for the virus. Of those 23,000+ cases, 273 were positive – little more than 1% of those tested. More than 66 million people live in the UK.
It also does not mean a death sentence for those diagnosed as positive for the virus. In a study of more than 44,000 cases of confirmed infections in China, 81% only suffered minor illness. 14% were said to have ‘severe’ symptoms, 5% were considered ‘critical’ and about half of those ‘critical’ ended in fatality. Two people have so far died in the UK who tested positive for COVID-19, however both had underlying health issues.
UPDATE: As of March 10, the government’s Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed six people in the UK have died after testing positive for COVID-19. The most recent case also had underlying health problems.
In the same study of more than 44,000 cases in China, the death rate was ten times higher in those aged 80 and above, compared to middle-aged people, as per BBC News. Death rates are lowest for those under 30 years old, with eight fatalities out of 4,500 cases. While people with ongoing health issues, such as cardiovascular issues or diabetes are also at a greater risk.
Meanwhile, in the US there has been 177 reported cases and 11 deaths, as of March 5, according to the Los Angeles Times. More than 330 million people live in the US.
Globally, as of March 8, there has been 105,820 confirmed cases, with 3,558 deaths. That’s less than 4% of cases ending in fatality. Around 80% of all cases come from just three countries.
In China, where the virus is believed to have originated, eight provinces have not reported any cases in the last 14 days, and the figures of newly reported cases are falling by the day.
So, what should we do now? Well, simply, listen to the WHO, which has a very useful list of Q&As here. And though I’m not telling you to not read the news, just be wary of what you’re hearing – if the numbers sound too far-fetched to be true, they probably are.
This is not the same as deciding which newspapers you should read during an election, for example, or which outlet claiming to be impartial is secretly undermining whichever party. World health should not be about politics and newspapers, and – as with all fake news – we should be working collectively to stamp it out. One of the biggest dangers of coronavirus is the spread of misinformation.
And no, the irony of reading about which media outlets to trust from another media outlet isn’t lost on me. But at times like this, with global panic reaching fever pitch, we must do our bit to dispel any myths, and ensure members of the public have the facts they need. Not the speculative and hypothetical possibilities of worst-case scenarios. No one needs that.
It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our Coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organisation on Coronavirus, click here.
Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist and sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.