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Join the media coverage dots and see a terrible scandal emerge

29 Apr 2020  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Join the media coverage dots and see a terrible scandal emerge

All the evidence now shows we are in the midst of a multi-headed public policy outrage that reaches back into the years of austerity, writes Ray Snoddy

To try to understand the latest position on Covid-19, politics and society you have to join up the dots.

All the necessary information is there in the media coverage but is still largely scattered all over the place.

A daily table in The Times devoted to comparative infection and death rates around the world certainly helps.

A campaign in the Daily Mail highlighting the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) is telling even though the paper’s orchestration of a £1 million load of PPE from China is of more symbolic than practical importance.

One of the sharpest-edge editions of Panorama for years explored the reasons behind the shortage and exposed the fact that there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the Government’s pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK.

And that’s before you get to the 1 billion items of PPE supposedly delivered which included double counting of left and right hand gloves and cleaning materials.

The Guardian managed to identify 23 of the participants of SAGE, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies - participants the Government has refused to name.

The leak has enabled Anthony Costello, professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London, to analyse the suitability of the group.

Costello wrote in the Guardian that the group was “oddly skewed” with an overwhelming medical view of science.

“The group includes no molecular virologists who could explain detailed pathogenic differences between Covid-19 and influenza, not one intensive care expert or nursing leader and no immunologist to examine whether this virus produces lasting and protective immunity,” wrote Costello. He also noted the lack of social scientists to work on community engagement.

Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, has been banging on – again in The Guardian and on television - about the lost five weeks in February and early March when warnings of a pandemic had been issued from China and little if anything appears to have been done.

We are grateful to the Financial Times for analysis of fatalities in fourteen countries suggesting that the overall death toll may be almost 60 per cent higher than reported by official statistics.

Then there are the surge of deaths in care homes, which according to The Times could soon exceed deaths in hospitals which at last seems to be on a downward trend, albeit a modest one.

Another piece in the picture will be made available later today when the Government starts announcing daily death rates in care homes alongside the usual grim number of hospital deaths.

The overall total is likely to shoot up, underlining the possibility that all Covid-19 related deaths in the UK could be much closer to 40,000 than the official hospital figure of more than 21,000.

It would be unfortunate if such a dramatic story, revealed in its entirety for the first time, is overshadowed by the news that Boris Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds has given birth to a son.

Forty thousand deaths for goodness sake.

When you join up all the dots of the media coverage of the crisis what sort of overall picture gradually emerges?

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that we are in the midst of the multi-headed public policy scandal of a generation that reaches back into the years of austerity.

A training exercise for a pandemic staged in 2016, Exercise Cygnus, found the Government and the NHS woefully unprepared for a pandemic but nothing was done. No stocks of PPE or ventilators were ordered and First Secretary Dominic Raab and other ministers questioned this week about Exercise Cygnus hadn’t even heard of it.

For reasons that only a public inquiry can reveal there were five weeks after pandemic warnings were first issued when little if anything was done – whether from poor scientific advice or government concentration on other pressing matters such as Brexit.

It seems barely believable now that events such as the Cheltenham races were allowed to go ahead – scattering the virus far and wide.

The record shows, in dozens of newspaper and television reports, that frontline NHS staff did not receive adequate PPE amid never ending claims that more was on the way imminently, even though it never quite showed up in the amounts promised.

Doctors and nurses have died as a result.

But the biggest scandal of all which newspapers, apart from the Boris Johnson cheerleaders, are just starting to get their teeth into, is that the seventh largest economy in the world is likely to end up having the largest number of deaths in the world apart from the US of President Donald Trump who thought it all a hoax which might cause no more than 15 deaths.

The numbers are difficult for journalists and everyone else to come to grips with. Is the best number that of excess deaths compared with the previous five year rolling average or is the Covid-19 related deaths per million the one to go for?

That one is perhaps one for the statisticians in future.

What is obvious is that we are in the presence of a major scandal and journalists are starting to sense it and toughening their questions on increasingly hapless ministers – whether it be Kathy Newman at Channel 4 News, Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain or Hugh Pym the BBC’s Health Editor.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times which has also been toughening its coverage, has apparently joined The Observer on the list of papers banned from asking questions at the daily Downing Street press conference.

In the end media outlets, particularly newspapers, which will struggle for survival when this crisis is over, will be judged by how well they have served the public in these terrible times.

First thoughts are in from a YouGov survey for the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute and show that The Guardian’s coverage of the coronavirus outbreak is considered substantially better than that of any other British newspaper.

According to the survey, twice as many Britons said they felt The Guardian was doing “a good job” compared with The Times its nearest rival.

Traffic to The Guardian’s website was second only to that of BBC News.

The Sun and the Daily Mail were the only national newspapers where more people felt they were doing “a bad job” than approved of their reporting on the pandemic.

Perhaps The Guardian has managed to join up the dots to reveal the full extent of the emerging scandal.

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ChrisArnold, CEO, Creative Orchestra on 4 May 2020
“There's no doubt that the government have not been prepared, and considering they have been in government for 10 years, there's no excuse.
Little effort was made before the outbreak to isolate, find a cure, test. Since it's come to light that glucose intolerance is also a factor they haven't done anything about testing for that either - up to 1m may be unknowingly vulnerable - especially S Asian and the black community.
The freezing of the economy was not a consequence of the virus but of poor planning and the NHS not being ready.
30,000+ deaths is not acceptable but more than that die every year from pollution in the UK.
10,000 a week die from multiple causes every week - cancer, strokes, dementia. In fact over 30,000 die from medical incompertance.
440 people die of cancer every day, 365 days a year, every year.
Last year globally 1.5m died from TB, 10m were infected.
Everyday up to 5000 people die due to dirty water and poor sanitation. T
And we do nothing.
The big question is why such dramatic action over a virus that doesn't kill 96% of the population? And only the vulnerable who are equally as vulnerable to other illnesses.
Some experts now believe that we will have more deaths due to cancelled operations, treatments and the consequences of throwing the economy under the bus.
Yes I believe we should try to prevent avoidable deaths (I'm not a Darwinian) but this is about death becoming bad politics.”
NigelJacklin, MD, on 29 Apr 2020
“This is something for the statisticians of today...not the future. Whilst 40,000 excess deaths is pretty bad, it equates to a loss in life expectancy of a month. There are serious inequalities in healthy life expectancy across the UK and essentially these deaths are a combination of a bad virus and pre-existing health issues. I have just completed an analysis by NHS Trust (published on linked-in). Where we live we have one of the lowest with covid death rates in the UK...and an elderly population...partly because many are healthy old people. It helps to get out and maintain/boost your immune system. It's also not clear to some of us as to whether a 'health' service that tends to prefer medical intervention over preventative advice makes sense.”


22 May 2020 

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