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Feature Medicine and the Media

Covid-19: are we getting the communications right?

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 06 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m919

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  1. Andy Cowper, editor
  1. Health Policy Insight, London, UK
  1. andycowper{at}

Other countries’ experiences are instructive, says Andy Cowper

Handling the covid-19 epidemic requires a balanced approach that promptly tells people what they and the health system can do without causing panic. China, where the SARS-CoV-2 virus originally infected humans, tried to use an authoritarian approach to underplay the seriousness of the outbreak in its early stages.1 It is paradoxical therefore that China’s aggressive approach to locking down cities is now credited with having slowed the epidemic’s spread there.2

Iran is second to China in the covid-19 death toll to date. The country is also believed to have been less than candid about the situation there, a stance dramatically emphasised when its deputy health minister visibly succumbed to the illness during a televised press conference about the disease.3

In the UK, while the gravity of the situation has become clearer, the official communications response has been mixed. This patchiness has been exacerbated by the government’s boycott of the national broadcast media outlets it considered “unfriendly” during last year’s …

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