Bath Chronicle

Keep­ing you in­formed as world plunged into ‘storm’

- Jenni Phillips Society · Travel · South West England · Somerset · Gloucestershire · Bristol · homeschooling · Boris Johnson · Rob Thomas · England · Public Health England · Cheltenham

Storm Den­nis bat­tered the South West in Fe­bru­ary, bring­ing floods and dis­rup­tion, but lit­tle did we know we were set for a dif­fer­ent kind of storm.

A few men­tions of a new virus here and there were the first drops of rain, but the show­ers ini­tially scat­tered far away from Som­er­set, Glouces­ter­shire and Bris­tol.

That was un­til March, when it be­came abun­dantly clear that the re­gion, and the world, was at war with this pan­demic. Our vul­ner­a­ble, our hos­pi­tals and our busi­nesses were as much at risk as those in all coun­tries af­fected by this un­prece­dented out­break.

As part of Jour­nal­ism Mat­ters Week, we have taken a look at how our re­porters cov­ered the Covid-19 cri­sis across our re­gion.

The Glouces­ter­shire team’s cov­er­age be­gan at the epi­cen­tre it­self as we spoke to one of the Brits forced to leave Wuhan.

Our Som­er­set team fol­lowed lo­cal pas­sen­gers from the Di­a­mond Princess cruise ship as they were repa­tri­ated as words like “quar­an­tine” be­came part of our daily con­ver­sa­tions. And as cases be­gan to be con­firmed in our re­gion we wanted to make sure we were clear on what the true pic­ture was.

The black clouds were gath­er­ing, how­ever, and the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion could not be ig­nored.

Ques­tions started to be asked about the vi­a­bil­ity of ma­jor events, in­clud­ing Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val. Th­ese con­cerns were quashed by the Gov­ern­ment who in­sisted it was busi­ness as usual, de­spite grow­ing calls for a na­tional lock­down. The event con­tro­ver­sially con­tin­ued al­most as nor­mal, with face masks be­com­ing the must-have ac­ces­sory.

A week later, ev­ery­thing changed. Lock­down was an­nounced along with rig­or­ous rules and re­stric­tions that we all had to fol­low. Peo­ple felt con­fused, iso­lated and fright­ened. And as dra­matic as the sit­u­a­tion was, we made sure we brought our read­ers the vi­tal in­for­ma­tion they needed, the lo­cal up­dates and the new laws. Ev­ery step of the way we backed up sto­ries with of­fi­cial data and sources, sep­a­rat­ing the com­ment and spec­u­la­tion from the hard facts.

At a time when many peo­ple were switch­ing off their so­cial me­dia feeds, we wanted to make sure we were not adding to the un­help­ful con­jec­ture that started weigh­ing on peo­ple’s men­tal health.

At the same time our news teams in Bris­tol, Som­er­set and Glouces­ter­shire were rapidly adapt­ing to a new way of work­ing. Our of­fices were swapped for spare rooms, kitchens and sheds. Like ev­ery­one else we jug­gled work with child­care, hold­ing meet­ings via video calls and bat­tling home wifi and home­school­ing. De­spite this change, our read­ers re­mained our fo­cus and our mis­sion to bring trusted in­for­ma­tion to the peo­ple who need it did not fal­ter.

As Boris John­son’s daily news con­fer­ences painted a bleak pic­ture of soar­ing num­bers and tow­er­ing graphs, our re­porters were show­ing that each num­ber on a chart was a real per­son, the much-loved mums, dads, grannies and grandads, all mourned and lost by their fam­ily and friends.

In Bris­tol we spoke to the col­leagues of front-line staff who lost their lives, the bus drivers from First Bus, the NHS staff and the car­ers. We lost so many peo­ple. At times the de­tails felt over­whelm­ing to both read­ers and staff, but with many fam­i­lies and loved ones un­able to say good­bye in per­son, we gave them the op­por­tu­nity to pay trib­ute pub­licly.

Few sto­ries were as mov­ing as Som­er­set’s trib­ute to twin sis­ters Katy and Emma Davis, both nurses, who died within days of each other af­ter con­tract­ing coro­n­avirus. Their sis­ter Zoe spoke for so many griev­ing fam­i­lies when she said: “It’s ab­so­lutely soul de­stroy­ing. You can’t grieve prop­erly be­cause you can’t be with the peo­ple that you love.”

Along­side the sto­ries of loss and grief, we have shared the tales of hope, the mov­ing ac­counts of those who have fought and won against the virus and the emo­tional scenes as fam­i­lies were re­united.

In Glouces­ter­shire, the mo­ment Rob Thomas, who was given a 50/50 chance of sur­vival, was fi­nally re­united with his fam­ily was mov­ing.

Fo­cus­ing on the real peo­ple, the fam­i­lies and friends af­fected by coro­n­avirus has been at the cen­tre of all of our re­port­ing – and it will con­tinue to be.

We know trust and ac­cu­racy is im­por­tant, which is why all the coro­n­avirus in­for­ma­tion we use across Bris­tol­live, Som­er­setlive and Glouces­ter­shire­live is from known sources, med­i­cal ex­perts and Pub­lic Health Eng­land. We work along­side our NHS trusts and coun­cils to make sure we spread key mes­sages to the widest pos­si­ble au­di­ence.

With our part­ners at Inyourarea, we have been able to bring com­mu­ni­ties the lo­cal de­tails they need, from how to sup­port food­banks to just how many cases have been recorded in their neigh­bour­hood.

But work­ing with coun­cils and the NHS doesn’t mean we stop ask­ing the im­por­tant ques­tions, like why Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val was al­lowed to go ahead, why ac­cess to coro­n­avirus test­ing has been so hard and what is be­ing done to pro­tect our vul­ner­a­ble older res­i­dents in care homes.

To our read­ers, whether it is on­line, in print or across our so­cial me­dia chan­nels, thank you for sup­port­ing us in th­ese strange times. By sign­ing up to a news­let­ter, leav­ing a com­ment on a story or writ­ing to your lo­cal pa­per you are show­ing your sup­port for lo­cal news. We couldn’t do any of this with­out you.

In the months ahead we may ex­pe­ri­ence more changes and more up­heaval but re­mem­ber our teams will be there with you.

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