These days, it is impossible to imagine life without the corona crisis and the relevant reports—such as this article—continue to appear at a rapid pace. However, there will come a time when we will have become tired of hearing about corona and the stream of information will dry up. It is precisely at that point that we must stay alert as a society, advises Enny Das, Professor of Communication and Persuasion at Radboud University. “Just because we’ve gotten used to the situation, it doesn’t mean that we should start behaving normally again.”It was only a few weeks ago that Tilburg council called a press conference to report on the first Dutch corona patient. Several days and dozens of infections later, this was followed by reports on the first corona death in the Netherlands. The coronavirus has now crippled the entire country. The subsequent uncertainty has been accompanied by a strong craving for information. Enny Das predicts that it is only a matter of time before this thirst for knowledge is quenched. “Then people will be sick of hearing about corona, there’ll be no more reports and in an increasing number of situations, people will be inclined to think, ‘There’s no harm in that’. And that’s exactly what shouldn’t happen.”In recent years, Das has been examining communication about the swine flu that threatened global health in 2009 and 2010 within a multidisciplinary research consortium. “We can scarcely remember that there were significant concerns during that time. The journalists subsequently received a lot of criticism. They had supposedly exaggerated the severity of the situation with an inordinate amount of over-emotional articles.” Das and her colleagues investigated how the communication about the pandemic related to the progress of the pandemic itself. What had caused the panic and were the journalists’ reports actually too sensational?Abnormal peak“One of the things that we investigated was the extent to which it matters whether journalists write an emotionally charged report compared to an unembellished, more factual report. We gave both versions of a report to different groups of participants and found that an emotionally charged report did not necessarily have more impact. It was the objective facts and figures that had the most effect on the participants’ perception of the situation.” Das additionally examined whether the criticism of the journalists was justified and what the subsequent basis was for this criticism. “We reviewed articles on swine flu from numerous countries; we looked at the number of articles, and at the content and the tone. Had too much been written? Had the journalists focused too much on the risks rather than the solutions? And was the tone that they had taken in their articles an over-emotional one? The results turned out to be better than expected, and revealed that the only problem had been the large volume of articles that had been written.”This was ultimately not a problem in itself, but as Das’ research team found in another study, the peak in the media coverage was completely asynchronous with the peak in the pandemic. “When the swine flu first broke out in Mexico and rapidly spread to the United States, the virus was given the broadest coverage, but when the greatest number of people died, the media barely reported on it.” As a result, scarcely anybody was vaccinated even though the government had spent millions of euros on vaccines.Keep your coolThis knowledge can now be used to deal with the corona virus as effectively as possible. The media coverage is currently increasing at the same rate as the spread of the virus. Everything is new, especially with the drastic measures that have been imposed, but if this ends up taking weeks or months, Das predicts that there will come a time when we really will lose interest in the whole situation. “Nevertheless, the media must find new angles to continue to remind us about the virus, and even then, as citizens, we must continue to listen to the evidence that is given. “Just because we’ve gotten used to the virus, it doesn’t mean we should start behaving normally again.”At the same time, Das is pleasantly surprised about how the news affects people. “Compared to swine flu, there is a greater focus on how the virus spreads and what people themselves can do. We all seem to be gaining a better understanding of how an epidemic works.” This is a positive development and is one that we should endeavour to maintain. Das therefore makes the following recommendations for both the coming weeks and thereafter: “Keep listening to the experts, use your common sense and keep your cool.”Photo: marada via Flickr.