When is it ok for a newspaper to panic its readers? The Daily Mirror left us in no doubt yesterday. PANIC OVER KILLER VIRUS, proclaimed its front page. EBOLA: WORLD GOES ON RED ALERT. The Telegraph was the other paper to lead with the story, albeit more equivocally: “Outbreak of deadly Ebola virus could reach UK.” We at i weren’t exactly understated in our own “puff” promoting the long science feature inside, calling it “the disease of nightmares”. But we chose to nudge the item down the front page, instead of running it more prominently (and alarmingly) along the top.
I wondered if that was a mistake yesterday morning, during our early debrief. But while the virus is terrifyingly lethal, and the outbreak in West Africa is speeding up, risk to British citizens remains minimal.
As the i100 team pointed out online, and we report inside, no cases of Ebola have ever been reported in Britain, the risk of travellers in West Africa contracting the disease is very low, and passengers are being checked before boarding planes. Even if an infected person made it through, they are very unlikely to pass on the illness (unlike, say, a respiratory pandemic). And even if they did pass on the illness to another person, the NHS here is alert and well prepared to contain it – we are world leaders in protecting the public from infectious diseases.
None of which mitigates the horror of the virus, of the 672 deaths in West Africa, or the words “No known cure”. But the infection can be stopped in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, through telling people what the disease is, how to recognise its symptoms and how to react.
Meanwhile, in the words of Lance Corporal Jones...