The full details of new coronavirus infections in the UK will now be released only once a week. While the number of new cases will be published on a daily basis, the location of these cases will only be reported on a Friday.
Due to the steep rise in the number of new cases – which reached 85 on 4 March – the Department of Health and Social Care says it is “unrealistic” to continue publishing this information on a more regular basis.
The announcement – made via Twitter – was met with anger and concern, with some Twitter users declaring that they will stay at home and keep their children out of school.
“I would hope to see more regular updates,” says Devi Sridhar at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “If we see [a rapid increase in cases] then once a week is not enough.”
Sridhar points out the contrast with the World Health Organization’s approach to public information. Ever since the WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, a committee has held daily briefings, sharing the latest developments and taking questions from journalists. “Each day there is so much new information that needs to be shared,” says Sridhar.
Limiting information isn’t going to help public anxiety surrounding the virus, either, says Sridhar. But she says that, as things stand, individuals are unlikely to be affected by not knowing where cases are being reported.
The people at the greatest risk of becoming infected with the virus are those who have been in close contact with someone who already has it. If you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, it is likely that health officials will get in touch with you, says Sridhar.
The UK’s approach stands in stark contrast to that taken by the government of Singapore. The country’s Ministry of Health regularly updates details on new cases of the virus – down to the home address of each person who has tested positive.
“What Singapore is doing is a real breach of people’s privacy,” says Sridhar. The approach is likely to leave some people reluctant to report having symptoms, which could hamper efforts to track and limit the virus’s spread.