A worrying silence as Covid continues
The Covid-19 pandemic hasn't gone away so why has media coverage been reduced to celebrity anti-vaxxers amid relative silence, asks Raymond Snoddy
You can still see Covid-related headlines in the UK press but they mostly concern vaccinations – or more precisely stars who are holding out against vaccination.
As a result, two very British institutions, the England World Cup football team and Strictly Come Dancing, could be in trouble.
In the case of Strictly, the difficulty comes from dancers who have refused to be vaccinated threatening Covid spread among the contestants.
The England vaccine football refusniks are a problem because the organiser of next year’s World Cup in Qatar is threatening to ban unvaccinated players.
Or as The Sun put it: “3 Lions, 5 unjabbed players 1 World Cup crisis.”
Individual tragedies can also attract the attention of the media, such as the fate of 15-year-old Jorja Halliday, a kickboxer and skateboarder with no known underlying conditions, who died of the effects of Covid, just before she was due to receive her first vaccination.
Apart from such stories, there is something close to an eerie silence from the media on the Covid pandemic – indeed it gets worse because you can even hear Today programme presenters talking blithely about the post-pandemic world.
Deep inside the papers, daily score cards are marked with the number of cases and deaths from Covid almost as if they are recording the performance of the FTSE-100 or the price of sterling against the Euro. The Times, at least goes one better by including daily international comparisons.
The really remarkable thing is that there is now so little fuss being made about a highly infectious illness with the proven capacity for exponential spread, which can also produce mutations almost seemingly at will.
We have somehow managed to normalise a daily toll in recent weeks of more than 38,000 new cases and weekly Covid deaths approaching 1,000 - hardly a word is said and there is no sense of crisis.
The headlines have all gone missing in a curious form of journalistic fatigue.
Too many people have been encouraged to think that the pandemic is indeed over and have abandoned even the most basic precautions.
The anti-vaccinators face few practical disincentives, apart perhaps from care home workers who were told bluntly by Health Secretary Sajid Javid to vaccinate or start looking for another job.
You have to look very carefully to find out what is going on and sometimes go beyond the orthodox media.
Professor Christina Pagel of University College London has just posted a chart displaying new Covid cases per 100,000 of population over the past two weeks in Europe. It shows that the UK is the runaway winner with around 650 cases, more than double the second highest, Austria.
Spain, Italy, Sweden, France and Germany are all reporting less than one fifth of the UK rate.
You have to go to a chart on page 17 of The Times to realise that the UK is truly world beating – its latest number of new cases at 35, 077 is number one in the world, ahead of both Turkey and the US.
Although the UK is merely eighth in the table for most reported deaths, it is the worst in Western Europe.
And still hardly anything is being said.
For the record, the 239,122 new cases over the past seven days is a fall of 0.9%, although the 778 deaths is a welcome fall of 18.6%.
The top UK economist for Deloitte, Ian Stewart, in his weekly personal column on the state of the world, notes that: “Covid-19 may temporarily have vanished from the headlines but the pandemic is far from over. Global case rates and deaths have trended down since late August but numbers remain at high levels.”
Stewart believes that the high number of cases in the UK result from its low level of restrictions (at least in England) compared with the rest of Europe and the fact that vaccination rates there have either caught up with, or exceeded ours.
How have we got to the stage where there have been 239,122 new Covid cases and 778 deaths over the past seven days and virtually nothing is said? Who is to blame?
The main culprit initially is the Government, since the lifting of almost all restrictions in England on 19 July – Boris Johnson’s Freedom Day. The administrations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have all been more cautious.
By merely recommending the wearing of masks in crowded places such as shops and public transport and the vacuous advice to be “cautious”, the Government has in effect encouraged the view that the crisis is over.
In his rather chaotic Today programme interview with Nick Robinson, Johnson said there was nothing in the data he saw that suggested his Plan A was not working- the near complete lifting of restrictions.
Of course there is an inbuilt tendency for the media to move on to the latest new stories and there are always plenty of those. Media culture is not best equipped to handle a persistent and continuing pandemic - but that is only half an excuse at best.
The media stands accused of being complicit in the normalising of a pandemic, which has not gone away, just because people are fed up with restrictions and because you can’t actually see the piles of bodies in the streets.
The very least that the media should now be doing, apart from stepping-up the case for vaccination, is to press for the imposition of modest restrictions which would cause limited economic damage.
In today's Daily Mail, Professor Neil Ferguson warns that high infections do not leave Britain much headroom to avoid another lockdown this winter because of an NHS "already close to the limit." It's a three-paragraph article at the bottom of page 12. it's not enough.
A media campaign should include mandating the wearing of masks in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport.
It could also pay attention to the Welsh Government ,which from Monday will require citizens to have a NHS Covid pass to prove full vaccination or a recent negative Lateral Flow Test to attend nightclubs and a number of larger indoor and outdoor events.
It’s time for the media to end its relative silence on a pandemic that is far from over, and could be merely a dress rehearsal for the next one.