To paraphrase a certain Mr Brian Clough – “I am a Derbyshire man.”
Which means from the novels of DH Lawrence to the peaks, the well dressings and even the water in Buxton, I love the East Midlands region, its traditions and its legacies.
That proud past includes the story of Eyam, the small village that secluded itself from the rest of the world at the first sign of the Black Death, risking its lives to protect thousands of others (you should go there once lockdown is over incidentally, read its story and even put your head in their stocks!)
So, I say a plague upon the press coverage I have seen around how the modern village is coping with the coronavirus.
Eyam is a lesson in amazing self-sacrifice. And I hope it acts as a powerful prick to the conscience to all those who have avoided social distancing.
But it is the coverage’s association with the word “plague” that really irks me. As does the daily references to X-many people died of coronavirus – and that this should guide us around how we cope with it.
Apocalyptic script goes viral
I used to be a reporter. And one of the first lessons I was taught by our old-school news editor was, “nothing sells a paper like a plague.”
Pitching coronavirus as a black death instant killer may make salacious sellable copy and keep politicians prattling, but it also masks some really important issues.
Firstly, those souls who have lost their lives have sometime done so because they have underlying health conditions. Why haven’t we taken COPD, pneumonia and even asthma seriously before – coughing without our hands over our mouths or sneezing into people’s faces? To vulnerable folk, even flu can be a killer. However, that’s something society seemingly doesn’t care about.
For someone who works regularly with and for the NHS, I ask “why has it taken a crisis for us to finally appreciate healthcare?” I thank everyone from my local bus company who is flashing “thank you to the NHS” on their bus fronts. I also thank all of you who clapped at 8pm for your appreciation. But where were the ventilators when we needed them? Why have we had to re-recruit all the staff successive governments said we can do without? How can we leave health carers, social carers and even those working for health charities without the necessary protection to look after their patients? Shameful.
Finally, where is the dialogue about antibiotics in the coronavirus coverage? The figures emerging from places such as Wuhan, show that so many of the people perishing are doing so from secondary bacterial infections caused by sepsis. Where is the commitment to finding new treatments? The incentivisation for pharmaceutical companies to develop them? The financial support for charities such as Antibiotic Research UK to carry on supporting patients with drug-resistant infections.
It is my hope that this awful pandemic is actually a route to us taking health much more seriously. We need to realise that sickness comes and that the NHS is not always there to fix us. We need to invest in new medicines and do far more to protect the vulnerable – whether they be older or homeless. And we should investigate where the virus emanated from – because that may affect our life choices, including what we eat.
And we have to stop pitching coronavirus – as was done with Ebola and SARS – as a drop dead instantly plague. It isn’t something from science fiction movies, however gorgeous that sounds to the scare mongerers. It is disrespectful to all those who have died, because it means that we have learned nothing from their tragedy.
Peter Gibson manages media and communications for Antibiotic Research UK.
All views expressed here about coronavirus coverage are those of Peter Gibson and not those of Antibiotic Research UK.
Learn more about the charity’s Patient Support Scheme here.
Find out more about the coronavirus from the NHS here.