Anyone who wants to know is aware that the Coronavirus, which appears to have originated in or near the Chinese city of Wuhan, and is probably a result of transmission from wild birds, has spread across many countries and affected tens of thousands of individuals. Even so, it is most likely no worse than a bad dose of influenza: for some at-risk groups, it can prove fatal, but then, so can flu. That has not stopped the press panic.
We now have 15 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the UK. That’s so small a percentage of the total population that it hardly registers. Most people are just getting on with life and not giving it another thought. But our free and fearless press - now that’s another matter. Someone goes OTT and wears a mask while travelling on the Victoria Line - snap! And it’s on the front page. Don’t panic - the press will do it for you.
So it is that the Guardian tells readers “UK warns against mass panic as race to halt outbreak intensifies”. Don’t panic, but WE PUT IT ON THE FRONT PAGE. Likewise, the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph tells readers “Schools and offices urged not to panic about virus”, but YOU PUT IT ON THE FRONT PAGE TOO. Along with that photo of a woman on the Victoria Line wearing a mask.
But at least they tried to be a little reassuring: as you move more downmarket, that goes out the window, with the i Paper ramping it up a little with “Virus now growing faster outside China”. No, it’s not “growing faster”, you mean the rate of transmission and infection. The virus remains more or less the same size. Then comes free sheet Metro.
And it is here that the press loses it completely: “ROYALS’ SCHOOL IN VIRUS ALARM … children in self-isolation after trip to Italy … Canary Wharf staff sent home as colleagues fall ill”. Christ on a bike, I was in the Canary Wharf area on Monday evening and have not yet become hospitalised. And the routine (and intimate) crush loadings on the Jubilee Line haven’t resulted in masses of new Coronavirus cases. But it gets worse.
The Daily Brexit, still calling itself the Express, has today gone full screaming Corporal Jones: “VIRUS SCARE HITS PRINCE GEORGE’S SCHOOL … Royal school is among 42 affected by Covid-19 … Health Secretary says we’re ready for outbreak”. Yes, the whole country can be in the grip of flooding, wintry weather, blackouts, shortages, strikes and the minor issue of rampant poverty, but if a Royal is in danger … THAT’S NEWSWORTHY.
Anyone keeled over with the dreaded lurgi while I’ve been typing? No? Thought not. But that hasn’t stopped the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker from telling readers that this one will finish off the NHS. “NHS BRACES FOR VIRUS MAYHEM … Suspected patients to be tested at home … Extra staff drafted in to 111 Helpline … Health chiefs say: everyone must wash hands for 20 seconds”. Don’t leave the house! Aaarghh! JIBBER!
But enough. Remember SARS? H5N1? No? Neither do most people. As with so many stories that they routinely overinflate, our free and fearless press does not care if they scare the crap out of their readers, so long as they score more sales and clicks.
You’ve more chance of being killed crossing the road. But that’s not in the paper.
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