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Communications in the coronavirus crisis: lessons for the second wave (Reuters Instit.)

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Introduction 

The UK has suffered through one of the worst coronavirus epidemics in the world, with more than 650,000 confirmed cases by mid-October, over 43,000 casualties across the country, and disadvantaged, marginalised, and vulnerable communities particularly hard hit.

Over the summer, the daily number of new cases and casualties was greatly reduced after a stringent lockdown in the spring, but the crisis’s often severe knock-on consequences for education, the economy, mental health, and other areas have caused growing concern, and the question of how to balance different priorities has become explicitly political and often controversial.

This represents a communications crisis as well as a public health crisis, and understanding the role of communications, news, and media in the handling of the epidemic itself as well as its wider social and political impact requires attention to how people navigate the crisis, something we have been investigating since March (Nielsen et al. 2020a). Our work has documented how the situation has changed dramatically in just a few months. After an initial surge in news use, news consumption in the UK has gradually returned to pre-crisis levels, news avoidance has grown, and trust in key sources of COVID-19 news and information has declined (Nielsen et al. 2020b). Digital platforms, including social media, video sharing sites, messaging applications, and search engines have seen high levels of use throughout the crisis, and often promote official health communication, but have also had serious problems with misinformation, and few trust them for information about the coronavirus (Nielsen et al. 2020c). We have also seen a dramatic decline in public trust in the UK government as a source of information about COVID-19 and a significant increase in the number of people who see the UK government itself as a source of potentially false or misleading information about the coronavirus (Fletcher et al. 2020a).

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