by Amy Jones
Wednesday, 28
July 2021

Why is good news about Covid so hard to accept?

Pundits refuse to believe that the latest pandemic developments are positive
by Amy Jones
You’re probably alright to lose that mask now Mum. Credit: Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency via Getty

There are plenty of reasons to be cheery this Summer: the UK has one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, with 88% of those over-18 having received at least one Covid jab, Covid cases are falling, despite the lifting of restrictions on July 19th, and the virus looks to be on its way to becoming endemic.

There is much to be optimistic about — and after almost 18 months of near constant bad news and a worsening mental health crisis — finally having some positive news should come as a relief to all.

But this glut of good news appears to have unearthed a new British pastime. As quickly as the good news on Covid rolls in, more and more people seem to be taking solace in finding the cloud to these silver linings.

When a GP tweeted last week that there were no Paediatric ITU beds left in the country — a fact which simply wasn’t true —it quickly picked up traction, eventually being retweeted over 7000 times. The GP subsequently explained that, whilst her information was incorrect, she felt the tweet justified, as she had been whistleblowing to highlight the plight of the NHS in general.

Similarly, a tweet on Sunday by ITV’s political editor Robert Peston, which queried recent case numbers has been widely shared.

In it, he explained that “the daily tally of infections seriously understates the actual number of infections” due to a failure to include reinfections. Many responded, including PHE officials, informing him that, actually, this was clearly noted on the dashboard, and the daily reinfection rate currently sits at around 1% — hardly significant. Despite this, the tweet remains up, and has had, to date, over 4000 retweets.

Meanwhile, a study associating Covid and lowered IQ, has been widely circulated both on twitter and in the media, gaining tens of thousands of likes and retweets, including from prominent accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers. Many commentators neglected to mention that — given the nature of the study — there were several cofounders that needed to be considered when interpreting the results, making it impossible to say for certain that Covid was the cause of the lowered IQ

Some people, such as Covid pundit Eric Ding argue that this gloominess is valid, that: “Healthy precautionary principle alarmism is good”. He thinks we should always expect the worst when it comes to Covid. This represents a gross simplification of the principle, but even if it didn’t, it is difficult to argue that sharing information which is misleading or untrue fulfils the precautionary principle. There is plenty to be alarmed or concerned about over Covid, without creating unnecessary panic.

It is not disrespectful to those who have died of Covid to find happiness in life, nor is it a tacit approval of the entire Conservative government to acknowledge when policies are successful. It may be that, as winter approaches, the Covid picture worsens, and there are once again more reasons to be gloomy. Few things are guaranteed in life, which is why when things are going well, we should enjoy good news, and not reach to find reasons to be unhappy.

Amy Jones is an anonymous doctor working in the NHS, who has a background in Philosophy & Bioethics. You can follow her on Twitter at @skepticalzebra

Join the discussion

  • Fear porn, like any other form of porn, is addictive.
    Still, giving credence to Twitter is shortsighted at best. Who are you representing? At best a subset of the subset of the population that is on twitter. Is that representative of real life or are we just feeding off each until THEIR truth becomes THE truth?

  • This is my first post so please be patient. My husband and I are hovering around the 70s. Because of a family tragedy, we have lived through lockdown, school closures etc with our daughter and two grandchildren. We only want the best for our daughter and especially the grandchildren. School closures have been torture so we are so cheered by good news. On a personal view, we have seen friends so badly affected by lockdown. One lady had to be sectioned because her mental health was so badly affected by loneliness and two friends have accelerated into dementia so please stop protecting the elderly just so that they can die of something else. I need good news, I need to hear something positive because I cannot cope with life like this. I do not have too many years left.

  • Thank you for accepting that my convictions are based on the data (rather than your original claim “any good news coming from you are likely to reflect your convictions rather than the data”)
    The problem with the uncertainty argument as you present it, is someone can always come along and say “you are taking an unacceptable risk, we must be even more cautious“. A race to the bottom, if you like.
    Also, the “how much you value risking lives as opposed to risking the economy” argument is a false dichotomy. Damaging the economy (and consequently non-Covid health care) also risks lives.

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