Demystifying the virus: COVID Frontline

Demystifying the virus: COVID Frontline

Today people from all around the world have connected - out of fear and sadness as COVID-19 continues to spread, infecting and killing thousands. In this period of uncertainty, three major newsrooms around the world have also come together, but to analyse the outbreak and to share the learnings from the frontlines of COVID-19.

Together with Facebook, Australia’s 7NEWS, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP) and Singapore’s The Straits Times (ST) co-hosted a special Facebook Watch event, “COVID Frontline”.

The result was a 45-minute Facebook Watch special that broadcast live from the Sydney studio of 7NEWS and those from SCMP and ST. The event took place on April 3rd at 12 noon Hong Kong / Singapore time and 3pm in Australia (EDT).

The show, which featured senior journalists from the newsrooms, medical experts and researchers, was co-hosted by Michael Usher, Anchor of The Latest from 7NEWS, Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent at The Straits Times and Yonden Lhatoo, South China Morning Post’s Chief News Editor.

Hosts and guests discussed many topics about the outbreak, such as what the respective regions did well to contain the spread of the coronavirus, development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs to fight the disease, corona virus myths and even if pets can contract the virus.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison also made a guest appearance during the show. While he labelled the current situation as “a new normal” for the country which could last at least six months, he called upon the citizens to stay connected to each other, stay positive and strong as a country to take measurable, scalable and sustainable efforts to manage the health and economical impacts that the outbreak could bring.

In addition to the Australian Prime Minister, “COVID Frontline” featured the co-chair of Singapore’s multi-ministerial task force that was formed during this crisis, Minister Lawrence Wong. He and his fellow ministers were highlighted by Salma for their honest and frequent messages to the public. She said that the messages from the ministers as well as the Prime Minister - coupled with the stringent measures for social distancing put in place by the Singapore Government - has helped to curb the spread.

Following this, Yonden lauded Hong Kong’s efforts of quickly responding to the outbreak. Scarred by SARS in 2003, Hong Kong had a good plan of containment, but the community spread of the virus there has raised alarm bells of concern as it now is in the “brink of a surge of new infections every day.”

They were then joined by medical experts: Dr David Hui, a respiratory expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and adviser to the Hong Kong Government; Professor Wang Linfa, Director of the programme in emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School and Professor Sanjaya Senanayake, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the Australian National University and an expert on infectious diseases.

They answered questions that readers and viewers of the 7News, SCMP and ST had sent in through Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

While answering these questions, Dr Hui assured that the seasonal flu is far more deadly than COVID-19. Additionally, he highlighted the duration that the virus is aerosol and stated the lack of scientific evidence that people of a certain blood group are more susceptible to contracting the virus.

Professor Wang, on the other hand, explained that vaccines will take at least a year to be developed and tested before it is released into the market. He also confirmed the belief that recovered patients have stronger immunity to the coronavirus.

When questioned about the genetic mutation of the virus, Professor Senanayake, who spoke last, expounded on how the virus’ mutation will not affect the development of vaccines as it is minor at this stage and also how children have been getting milder cases of COVID-19.

Other expert guests on the show were Professor John Nicholls, a pathologist at Hong Kong University, Professor Alexander Cook, Vice-Dean for research at National University of Singapore’s school of public health and Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, a world-leading epidemiologist and current advisor to World Health Organization.

They gave medical insights about the spread of the virus and underscored the importance of social distancing to aid in containing efforts.

Considering the recent spread of misinformation, along with the virus, Facebook has been relying on the help of Fact Checkers to weed out fake news. Rachel Blundy, an AFP Fact Check Editor is one such person. While describing her role in communicating verified news to the public, she demystified false COVID-19 news trends.

The Facebook show ended with the journalists expressing their appreciation for the various heroes who rose to the occasion amid this critical situation. These include community volunteers handing out test kits and masks to neighbours and the elderly, as well as NGOs that played a part in serving the community. What particularly stood out was one group of children.

Primary school pupils at a school in Australia started a penpal programme with an aged care centre when they found out the centre could no longer accept visitors. The children stand as an example that staying connected, working together and showing kindness can get us through times of doubt and despair such as this COVID-19 outbreak.

The Facebook special can be viewed on the Facebook pages of The Straits Times, South China Morning Post or 7NEWS.

This feature is written by Sudha Raman from Telum Media.

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