Information and Covid-19. Certainties and speculation. How to navigate the situation.
At the close of Sunday 22 March, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus was 294,110, with 12,944 deaths. There have been reported cases in 187 countries, areas and territories around the world. These are the figures provided by the World Health Organization and the ones we refer to on a daily basis. There is also a series of websites – some more reliable than others – that provide seemingly up-to-date projections; however, in many cases, these are forecasts based on algorithms, press sources, unofficial news, and unconfirmed reports.
The quantity of news on Covid-19 has now taken a global and circular course, taking up almost all the news we receive on a daily basis practically everywhere in the world. Precisely for this reason, and because of the effects that incorrect or incomplete information can have, it is essential to rely on reliable data and on accurate and certified sources. The most trustworthy, both in terms of the information network feeding it (government ministries of health) and in terms of updates on research, is obviously the World Health Organization (WHO), whose website (https://www.who.int/) is considered the most accurate and reliable source. It is possible that a press report (vaccines, number of people infected or deaths, decrease or increase in cases, etc.) may not immediately appear on the WHO website. However, this simply means that every news item is subject to careful scrutiny and therefore does not go public until a careful procedure has been followed that enables it to be published and in a certain sense “certified”. So, how is the WHO website organised and what tools does this important UN agency offer to the general public?
First of all, WHO is the leading international authority and coordinating body for health and healthcare within the United Nations system, and as such adheres to the values of the UN Charter: integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity. Finally, the work of the organisation, led by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is enshrined in the principles of universality, fairness and respect for human rights. These words may sound a bit ritualistic, but its independence – for example from the business sector – guarantees the autonomy of the organisation’s choices. Too much caution, however, brings the risk that unfounded news may lead to panic. Over 7,000 people from more than 150 countries work for the organisation in 150 offices spread across countries, areas and territories, six regional offices, one Global Service Centre in Malaysia, and of course the central headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The website is published in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian.
Information on Covid-19 is given across the whole website, but in the COVID-19 Quick links section (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019) there is a series of easily accessible information for the general public addressing various aspects of the issue: from the most complex and technical (Country & Technical Guidance) to those involving individuals (Protect yourself, Travel advice, and Q&A, with simple answers to complex questions). Of course, WHO cannot answer all the general questions about the issue (the economic cost of the virus, impacts on national healthcare systems, decisions by individual governments, etc.). We will try to regularly update the information we provide, always guided by WHO. An example? How is the international air traffic system working - a major concern for those who have to travel for personal or business reasons? This is clearly explained by IATA (https://www.iata.org/ ), the International Air Transport Association, which represents around 290 airlines, accounting for 82% of total air traffic. IATA reports that 420,000 flights have been cancelled with an estimated loss of more than 110 billion dollars, and a 50% drop in bookings, which is estimated to be 40% in April and 25% in May. On its website, IATA also includes news articles on current events that the association considers reliable.