Letters & Opinion

Media Cash Cows Milking COVID Deaths for Headlines!

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Nothing I hate more than what I call ‘Statistics of Death!’

It always pains me when news reports, at home and abroad, compare how many ‘homicides’ occurred under one government vis-à-vis another, to make a case as to which party in government ‘handled crime better.’

The references are to the number of ‘homicide victims’ and deaths categorized on the basis of whether persons died by ‘murder’ or ‘misadventure’ – whether it was ‘gang-related’ or ‘shot by police’.

And in cases involving persons dying by police bullets and related cases taking forever to be heard, I always stress the need to consider the families of both the accused officers and the victims.

Most times it sounds as if we’re writing or talking about how many tons of bananas shipped annually, or coconut trees lost in a hurricane, instead of people who once had a life before it was taken.

Today, it’s the same about ‘COVID Deaths’, Health Departments measuring and counting based on  whether the victim died from ‘Corona’ or ‘Underlying conditions’, reporters reporting the bare figures, statistics and medical terms in ways that create more doubt over whether it was ‘Death by COVID’ or ‘a COVID-related death…’

I often tell those who see ‘nothing wrong with reporting exactly how someone died’ to try to explain that to the grieving families.

The issue COVID deaths is (once again) being terribly misused to send deadly negative messages to people about proactive steps being taken by governments to keep the virus at bay and to prepare for the worst-case scenarios that we all wish never to see, but can never absolutely rule-out.

Take the case of the Grenada government’s decision to ensure it has a national plan for if the number of COVID victims needing hospitalization overwhelms the number of beds available.

The Chief Medical Officer and medical personnel, following the science and watching the COVID numbers, assessed three weeks ago that the rate of positive cases indicated that, if not halted or reversed, Grenada could see more-than-half the population test positive in just a fortnight.

The health authorities therefore urged the government to start thinking, early-enough, about an urgent Master Plan for a possible Worst-Case Scenario.

Grenada took the advice and government started putting stakeholders on notice.

With an assessment of less beds available than persons needing hospitalization, it was suggested a mechanism also be developed to determine who among the most severe cases would get priority access the limited beds.

But some in the regional press summed-up the entire situation as one in which the Grenada government wanted ‘to decide who will live and who will die.’

Same with the government’s efforts to ensure there’s enough refrigeration for bodies of dead victims.

Here’s how one Grenada media house reported a related meeting:

On Thursday night at a high-level meeting between Health Minister Nickolas Steele, Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Shawn Charles, the Directors of Funeral Homes, members of the Clergy and other Social Partners the funeral homes indicated that they had about 67 Covid-19 bodies on hand waiting to be buried or cremated.

These figures did not include the number of persons already cremated or buried by the Homes.

The government has since updated its Dashboard figures to 50 Covid-19 deaths, but speculation is rife in some quarters that the actual figure is much closer to 100 in Grenada.

The Acting CMO told a press briefing last week that the situation is now a “National Disaster”, since about one-third of Grenada’s population of 110, 000 persons is now infected with the deadly virus.

The Keith Mitchell-led government is coming under increasing pressure from Grenadians and on Social Media over the amount of people now dying from the disease with Grenada now at Number 2 on the list in the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

And then the report went on to offer the regional picture, saying: St. Lucia has the most COVID-19 deaths at 150, followed by Antigua & Barbuda (55), St Vincent & The Grenadines (14), St Kitts & Nevis (9), Dominica (8), Montserrat (1) and Anguilla (0).

That was a week ago, but it’s a typical example of manipulating truth to spread lies.

Here we have a government reporting 50 COVID-related deaths officially, but a section of the press openly alleging the number may be much more, but offering no proof.

And here we have a government of a smaller CARICOM and OECS member-state, with a smaller population than most, taking admirable early steps to handle a possible crisis, but being described by some as ‘playing God…’

But I actually agree that Saint Lucia should indeed take note, as the country already has less beds than will be needed at current rates of COVID infection.

Grenada may not face the Doomsday the Science accurately pointed to, as the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting a decrease in the rates of infection globally currently, while also warning it’s not reason to rest on our laurels.

However, it’s also situations like these that not only ensure the battle against COVID will last longer than expected, but actually add to the number of unfortunate deaths among unvaccinated people.

It is such situations that caused CARICOM governments to agree at their September 13 special online COVID Summit to take a common approach to the common problem of member-states each having to fight such negative propaganda that has the accumulative effect of only increasing the number of deaths regionally.

Sadly, some regional media houses seem and sound like they take pleasure in playing the deadly numbers game with lost lives, keeping the number of deaths and total number of positive cases in the headlines, every morning, noon and night.

Why? Simply because increases in COVID deaths ‘make good headlines’ that ‘sell’ newspapers or ‘attract’ readers, listeners and viewers.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

But what else to expect in societies in which we’re always more concerned about who is dying next, instead of how many new babies are born every day — and what future we’ll leave them?

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